South Carolina has no lack of energy topics, good actions, and opinions. That’s what I took from the robust discussions at the South Carolina Clean Energy Conference in Columbia last week.
During the conference I felt a pervasive sense that there is no business as usual in the future of energy. Those with a status quo frame of mind – not open to change – will be left behind. That means, to me, that customers will be behind, too.
Here are a few observations.
Transportation was a big topic, appropriate with the anticipation on growing electric vehicle sales and the way that EVs can be used for the grid. ECC will feature a blog soon that looks at VGI – Vehicle Grid Integration, or, the idea that EVs can have their power aggregated to impact how power is tapped.
EVs are not just cars, but a different way of life. That was a message from South Carolina native Erika Myers, Principal for Transportation Electrification from the Smart Electric Power Alliance in Washington. Her point: EVs will integrate into our lives in ways much more than transportation. We will have new ways to manage charging, new rate structures, customer costs, capabilities, and even be part of a virtual power plant (we’ll have a blog about that, too).
Lots of talk about a possible Carolina RTO – Regional Transmission Organization. Some people feel that an RTO is the key to lower consumer prices, that there would be more competition and transparency. Understand that an RTO is a wholesale – not retail – mechanism.
Here’s a real-life RTO: PJM, an RTO that serves the Mid-Atlantic. It has various state market designs. An RTO can provide transparency and coordination in wholesale markets. An RTO is not a guarantor of low prices, more renewables (lots of coal in PJM), or any specific generation source. An RTO does not do distribution planning. Retail choice is a state jurisdictional question.
Real clarity is needed about this idea. The right questions, market needs, and the right solutions must be thoroughly outlined. This is not a time to “just do something.” (Yes, you’ll see an explanation of RTOs from ECC soon.)
I thought about that when I heard comments about the Baseload Review Act. Not a popular piece of legislation at this point. Separating what happened from the intent of the legislation is worthwhile, perhaps. The idea of saving ratepayer funds – a big part of the intent – is hard not to admire. How the legislation unfolded in practice was the bad news.
Bottom line on energy legislation: Think through the real implementation of what gets passed, but do not be slow. Passing a bill is not a cure-all. Important work starts after legislation is accepted. The vote is not the final chapter. It can be a beginning.
I noted that business as usual is out. Incremental change – out. Facing the reality of markets and technology – in. Understanding that energy organizations must face major changes – really in.
As I have interacted with energy people in the Carolinas and other parts of the country, that is all true. The energy industry business model is changing. The technology is racing ahead. The need for consumers to actually learn about their energy is increasing.
The South Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance conference provided a lot of content, in a positive and open forum. That is important. Talking past each other, or resting important actions on impressions of the past will not work. Just like a good energy portfolio, we need an all-of-the-above discussion to get the best ideas on the table and in the marketplace.