From Scott Carlberg

Expect change in your electric service to accelerate as we go through the 2020’s.

That is based on the changes we saw in the 2010’s. Let’s look back at a few electric trends from the decade we are leaving and how those have affected consumers. What follows are just headlines. You’ll read more about them on this website in the future, too.

This was big in energy for the 2010’s —

Corporate mergers. Economies-of-scale is a concept that can add financial strength, increased availability of talent, and expertise for smaller electric operations.

Company names from the beginning of the decade have disappeared as independent companies. In the Southeast, Duke Energy purchased Progress Energy in 2012 and Piedmont Natural Gas in 2016. In 2018, Dominion Energy purchased the Columbia Energy Center in Gaston, SC, and Scana, based in Columbia, SC. Florida’s NextEra Energy made an acquisition of Gulf Power, which serves northwest Florida, in 2019.

As the decade ends, mergers are about more than bulking-up power generation and distribution. Mergers include new power technology. For example, Duke Energy acquired a majority share of Phoenix Energy Technologies, a provider of energy management services in 2015. Southern Company acquired PowerSecure, a distributed energy infrastructure technologies company in 2016. NC-based tech firm Ingersoll Rand made a deal for energy data analytics company Agilis Energy in 2018.

Lines of business are blurring, too. Outside the SE, Chevron, ExxonMobil, BMW, and American Electric Power were part of a deal with a network of independently owned electric vehicle charging spots. (Source) Oil – Auto – Power.

Consumer impact: Customers have not had to make any change in electric or gas service after a merger. A change in utility ownership created no disruption in service. Behind the scenes, though, companies have a deeper bench of professionals serving them. More experience. Financial resources.

Rise of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles have become known as EVs. Get accustomed to this acronym, too – ICE. That is for internal combustion engines. More auto makers are adopting EV technology, with 2020 turning out to be a banner year for new models. “Interestingly, several experts told the publication sales of ICE-powered vehicles peaked in 2018 which basically means it’s unlikely that more cars with ICEs will be sold within a year in the future.” (Source)

Tesla. Image from Tesla media gallery.

The Nissan Leaf was introduced in the United States in 2010. It was the first major manufacturer, family, mass-market vehicle. Dozens of EV models are on the market now. (Source) Growth has been above 60% a year globally in some cases. (Source)

The big seller in 2010 was the gasoline-powered Camry, selling 327,804 units. (Source)  Check this EV progress. So far in 2019, electric-powered Tesla has delivered more than 250,000 units. (Source)

Consumer impact: Customers have had a fairly easy decision about whether to stay with an ICE or go EV. Until 2020. ICE has had more fueling options, longer range on a tank of fuel and a favorable price compared to EVs. That is likely to start changing in 2020 with more charging options and improved range on a charge.

Duke Energy image gallery

From central to dispersed power generation. In my various travels over the years I have passed large coal plants and nuclear facilities. Large and impressive structures.

In the last couple years I see more solar fields and wind mills along the road. These are smaller power generation facilities.

The electric industry, once dominated by centrally-located large generation facilities is now looking at a distributed energy resource model. State governments have been an impetus. “States have created these [renewable portfolio] standards to diversify their energy resources, promote domestic energy production and encourage economic development. Renewable energy policies help drive the nation’s $64 billion market for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. Roughly half of the growth in U.S. renewable energy generation since 2000 can be attributed to state renewable energy requirements.” (Source)

Big plants near the bottom; distributed systems near the top. (EIA)

Consumer impact: Customers will continue to be served well by utilities as the companies integrate new power sources.

Cleaner energy. Renewables Dominate Utility Resource Plans is a recent headline in one electric industry magazine. It points out that renewable power sources have become easier and cheaper to build than to operate fossil-based (read that as coal) generation.

The reasons for cleaner power, in ECC’s opinion:  State laws and tax breaks that set renewable portfolios, for one. “In some states, it is cheaper to build new wind and solar plants than to operate existing fossil-fuel power plants.” (Source)

Cheap natural gas for the most part. Fracking, which released ample gas in the Mid-Atlantic Region helped. It doesn’t hurt that gas has a much lower carbon footprint than coal, too, making gas more attractive than coal. Regulations have increased on coal generation, technology has reduced the cost of some renewables, and legislative actions create incentives to build renewables, too.

Customer education. Simply plugging into the wall is so 2010. Customers will increasingly need to know more about their electricity, how they pay it, and how to use it wisely.

Smart homes will play a part in that. “The Global Smart Home Market was valued at $55.65 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach $174.24 billion by 2025.” That is growing more than 13% a year. (Source)

Why should it grow? “Connected energy management devices now offer greater functionality. Demand for devices such as smart thermostats and smart lighting systems has increased markedly over the past two years, driven by both their money-saving capabilities and their easy-to-use reputation.” (Source)

Customers have a lot to learn about the billing for their service. In one survey, “Forty-seven percent said they weren’t sure what their current electric rate plan was — a traditional flat rate or an alternative plan.” (Source)

What kind of choices can customers face? An example: “In January, Xcel Energy in Minnesota filed for approval to expand their Renewable Connect Pilot Program (a renewable energy tariff aimed at businesses that want access to renewable energy) into a full-fledged program. Xcel stated that the pilot sold out in one year and there are more than 400 customers on a waiting list.” (Source)

Consumer impact: This may be the biggest change for customers – learning more about electric service and how to buy it. For instance, with new technologies utilities can give customers price breaks in exchange for the utility managing how power is used at a home. Think about it. Ten years ago many consumers never thought they would have so many choices just in light bulbs.

Bottom line –

Change will happen. On many fronts, too. It will not just happen but will take place faster and will result in a better product, but everyone needs to evolve with it.

Look at it this way. Question: Who is doing business with Virginia Railway & Power Company? Answer: Dominion Energy customers, because that was the name of the company when founded in 1909.

Across the board, a lot of changes. More choices.