Utilities face a pivotal year of change in 2020. UtilityDive, an energy industry magazine, put together a good overview of the changes in a story, From utilities to states to grid operators, the energy transformation is accelerating, but significant challenges remain.
Some of those challenges are especially worth noting in the Southeast:
Renewables, storage, DER grow increasingly competitive with traditional supply options.
We have written about the decline of coal and increase of distributed energy resources (DER – e.g., solar, wind). It is not just an easy swap of one power source to another. This change requires power companies to do new kinds of planning and operations processes.
States pursue 100% clean energy goals
At one time there was a gasp when states committed to a percentage of power coming from clean resources. Now there are 100% commitments. A question: What is clean? Is it just no carbon emissions? No carbon emissions in any part of the supply chain for energy? Is it an absence of hazardous materials in power generation? (Solar has some materials that need attention.) Is it ample power without emission, like nuclear?
Coal’s long-term decline continues.
Everyone knew this was coming. The trend seems to be accelerating. We think it can accelerate even more. Check our recent blog.
Increasing questions about the future of natural gas
Some cities are banning the use of natural gas in buildings as a safety and environmental effort. In power generation, gas has been great as it replaces higher carbon energy sources, like coal. Gas has been historically cheap, too. Natural gas still has a carbon footprint, though. Here’s a December 2019 story from Scientific American about cities banning gas.
Energy storage grows as a favorite resource
In the industry the idea is to store energy for when it is needed most. The idea of “batteries” is changing. Think broadly to anything that can store energy, like a lake that be drained through a turbine, like in the Upstate of South Carolina at the Bad Creek facility, near the Oconee Nuclear Plant. One headline: Batteries hold the key to transitioning away from fossil fuel dependence, and are set to play a greater role in the coming decade.
Focus on grid mod and grid hardening.
This is a big one. Are utilities improving the ability of their grid to avoid disruption? That takes money and good planning. A hardened grid is more resilient for customers … fewer power lines down in storms or when a vehicle may hit a pole, for instance.
Bottom line: Utilities face a faster future that requires real financial flexibility and excellent operational skills. Customers should check their utility’s websites for news and information for solid, helpful information (read that as “not fluff”) that are essential to keeping you in service, at a reasonable cost, and with prospects for future services.