US utilities must act quickly to secure a long-term, essential role as market facilitator and platform provider in the distribution system of the future, concludes a new Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) and GridWise Alliance report, In an accelerated energy transition, can US utilities fast-track transformation? The coproduced study – which includes observations from executives of several of the largest US utilities – examines the changing state of the industry and explores the distribution system solutions needed for a digitized, decentralized and decarbonized electric grid.
Dana Hanson, Principal, Ernst & Young LLP and Americas Power and Utilities Leader, said, “The global energy transition is rapidly accelerating and US distribution utilities do not have the luxury to wait and watch. They must prepare for a future that will see increased electrification of transport, heating and industry, as well as a growing number of customers empowered to produce and sell their own electricity. This requires utilities to invest in the right people, technologies and processes today, if they want to succeed in the new energy world tomorrow.”
Creating a fit-for-purpose distribution system
The report outlines that the US distribution utility of the future will need to manage a flexible resources platform – one that allows distributed energy resource (DER) owners and aggregators to participate and trade in a streamlined energy market in which power reliability is optimized across the entire system.
As DER technologies become more efficient, they are expected to experience tremendous growth, while at the same time decarbonization initiatives will drive the electrification of transportation, buildings, heating and industry. The existing grid is unable to respond to the challenges and opportunities this presents, creating pressure on utilities to embrace increased responsibilities that ensure power reliability and tap into new, sustainable, long-term revenue opportunities.
The report suggests distribution utilities are well positioned to take a leadership role, working with key stakeholders to transform the system into one that is flexible and agile enough to cope with the complexities of managing customer-centric loads and resources.
Steve Hauser, GridWise Alliance CEO, said, “Utilities have the opportunity to assume a significant leadership role in enabling the US electricity system transition. We’ve already seen many examples of progress toward this outcome. Key to this is collaboration between utilities and their peers, partners and regulators. Increased collaboration will allow for shared learnings, help achieve consensus on industry best practices and accelerate the changes needed.”
Distribution utilities must transform rapidly to keep up
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, given differing state regulatory regimes and varying levels of digital grid maturity across the US, distribution utilities can take steps today to reinvent themselves and secure their future. The report outlines a three-phased approach to investment, which reflects local circumstances, maturity and dynamics. It also explores the skills and capabilities needed for US utilities to become linchpins in a distribution system that is fit-for-purpose in the evolved, digitized and clean energy world.
Hanson added, “Grid modernization investments to connect and protect the grid are critical to succeed in the energy transition. US utilities need to invest in new and enhanced capabilities across every aspect of their business and capture new revenue streams, while they simultaneously build and sustain trust with all key stakeholders, including regulators, customers, employees, industry peers and partners.”
About the study
The In an accelerated energy transition, can US utilities fast-track transformation? report was coproduced by GridWise Alliance and Ernst & Young LLP (EY US). The observations made in this report are supplemented by face-to-face interviews with C-suite executives from some of the largest distribution operators in the US, as well as output from an industry workshop hosted by GridWise Alliance and EY US in Denver, Colorado, in July 2019. It examines the changing state of the electric utility industry in the US and explores distribution system solutions fit for a digitized, decentralized and decarbonized electric future.
The US report follows a January 2019 report by EY and European Union industry body, Eurelectric, which considered the future responsibilities of distribution system operators and the ongoing role of the electricity grid in Europe.
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About GridWise Alliance
The GridWise Alliance represents the broad and diverse group of stakeholders that design, build, and operate the electric grid, including electric utilities, equipment and service providers, national laboratories, academic institutions, regional transmission operators, and independent system operators.
The Alliance champions the principle concepts, policies, and investments needed to transform the electricity grid by understanding the diverse perspectives and priorities of all stakeholders. GridWise member companies have been leading changes across the electricity industry since 2003. For more information, please visit www.gridwise.org.