Carolina Energy 2019 – A Blueprint for States and Consumers

From Scott Carlberg

As ECC was researching its look at 2019 in energy we found two recent reports that provide good high-level strategies for electric energy. While the reports are not specifically focused on the Carolinas or the Southeast, the topics in the reports absolutely apply to the Carolinas. Taken together the material in these reports can help guide the Carolinas in energy business and policy. These reports will be interesting to anyone who wants to dig a bit deeper into the electric industry. Here’s our quick look at these reports.

After almost two years of work the National Governors Association (NGA) issued, Staying Ahead of the Energy Innovation Curve: Strategies for Governors. The report clearly sets the scope for a governor, and legislature frankly, to anticipate our energy future: “Governors will play a key role in preparing their states for a smooth transition.  They can work alongside other state officials, federal and local governments, utilities, technology providers and others to advance innovation and stay ahead of the curve.” (source)

The report is clear that governors (and ECC will extend that to state governments) “…can guide and drive measures to help their states prepare for and embrace the rapid pace of energy innovation.” The report provides seven strategy areas for policymakers to address for a successful state energy environment:

  • Support technology innovation.
  • Modernize legislation, regulations and incentives.
  • Provide funding and financial mechanisms to drive technology deployment.
  • Prepare the workforce.
  • Update communications networks and data systems.
  • Address cyberthreats.
  • Educate citizens about the benefits and risks of technological innovation.

These seven strategies are a substantial list of important electric energy needs.

The wisdom of consumers is a prominent theme I see in the NGA report. Each of the seven strategies enables consumers to have energy choices. Bolster energy innovation and consumers will respond. “Energy innovation enables consumers to better manage their energy use and adopt new technologies,” says the report.

Technology and policy have to work well together. For instance, regarding sophisticated electric meters: “The data that advanced meters unlock enables utilities and third-party providers to create new tools and technologies that offer customers greater understanding of and control over their energy consumption choices. Customers can use these technologies and services to more effectively undertake energy efficiency upgrades or save money by reducing use during peak power periods where rate designs allow.” More data, and accurate data, enable efficiency.

State decision makers may find another report useful background for energy decisions. An energy publication called Utility Dive does a yearly survey of energy experts. Noteworthy are the topics that take center stage in 2018. You may be surprised that the highest concern is not about renewable energy or electric vehicles, which get a lot of press in general. (pdf – Utility Dive Report 2018)

What issue was first? (Sound of a drum roll) “Physical and cyber security. This year, 82% indicated physical and cyber grid security is important or very important, up from 72% in 2017. Elevated anxiety about cyber security is universal across all utility types, sizes and regions.”

That makes sense, especially since the public has seen how cyber security cuts across industries. Utilities have worked on cyber security for some time. As consumers we can expect a continued drive from utilities to guard against cyber problems.

The Utility Dive report also notes as a priority, “Bulk power system reliability. This year, utility professionals seem notably uneasy about the backbone of the U.S. electric power industry, with concern most pronounced in the Mid-Atlantic, South/Southeast and New England. Multiple extreme weather events in the past year, including three hurricanes and an extended cold snap, may contribute to these concerns, as well as the looming retirement of large, inflexible coal and nuclear generators struggling to compete in wholesale power markets.”

2019 will be one year in a multi-year evolution in our region’s electric generation profile. The evolution is happening while the system has to operate all the time for consumers. No down-time for change. I have heard this analogy about change in the generation and transmission systems in the electric industry: “It’s like trying to change to tires on a vehicle going 100 mph.”

At the foundation of both reports is the consumer. The Utility Dive survey notes the importance of, “Changing consumer preferences. 21st-century utility customers want unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability from their utilities, including outage and billing alerts, more sustainable and efficient power and clear information from their utilities.”

Carolina electric organizations put a lot of information out to the public on the web already, hard numbers and feature stories about energy, facilities, policy and people.* In 2018, however, there have certainly been energy issues that call for improved lines of communications, business structures and policy. Those news stories ought to be used to guide government decision-makers in 2019 to ensure the Carolinas remain energy-competitive to businesses and families who want our states to be their homes.

Consumers have to take the time and effort to absorb that information. The NGA report has this perspective about consumers: “End users are playing a more active role in energy use, and companies are exploring innovative models to save money and produce or use energy in cleaner ways. These changes are moving the United States toward a future that is more diverse, distributed, renewable, efficient and connected.”

Policymakers set a legislative and decision-making tone for state energy innovation to benefit consumers. Energy technology will keep developing, it won’t wait. Policymakers can enable a positive political and regulatory atmosphere — “work alongside other state officials, federal and local governments, utilities, technology providers and others to advance innovation and stay ahead of the curve.” Time for action. Ensure the Carolinas are smart about business, energy and policy.

*Electric organizations in the Carolinas make a lot of information available online. Here are a few of the feature-oriented resources.

Illumination – From Duke Energy. Feature stories.

Carolina Country – From NC Electric Energy Cooperatives.

SC Living – From SC Electric Energy Cooperatives.