Getting Ahead of the Curve for a Clean Electric Grid
The movement for clean, renewable energy is lighting up the country, and when it comes to electricity, the policy landscape is changing quickly. All across the country, states, localities, and corporations are committing to clean and renewable energy. More than 180 local governments have committed to 100% clean and renewable energy, while 361 electric utilities have set climate goals.
For example, the midwestern utility Xcel Energy plans to reduce greenhouse gasses 80 percent by 2030 and eliminate them entirely by 2050. Colorado’s Platte River Power Authority plans to eliminate its emissions by 2030.
These are worthy goals to move our world away from fossil fuels and combat climate change. Cleaning up our electric power grid is the most important thing we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electrification is going to become ever more important.
But how will we actually accomplish these goals?
States and localities often pass policies that require a certain percentage of electricity to come from renewable sources. The most common policy is called a Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS policy, which requires electricity suppliers to produce a specified portion of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar energy.
This means it’s often up to utilities. Utilities are in charge of the electricity grid and they decide when and where to build new solar power plants and transmission lines – all while keeping the lights on.
Whether or not a utility’s state has an RPS policy, the industry is trending towards renewable electricity, and there is competition between utilities with the most renewable energy.
The clearest way for a utility to meet its renewable energy goals is to invest in new renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, geothermal, and battery storage. In order for the country to meet its clean energy goals, Deloitte analysts predict that American utilities will need to add up to 100 GW of solar and 122.5 GW of wind power capacity each year.
More than ever, electric utility customers are looking for ways to go solar or power their electricity with wind. Clean energy investment has grown by 12% each year since 2020. Renewables, grids, and storage now comprise more than 80% of total power sector investment. Wind and solar energy will take the top stage, but these sources don’t run 24/7 -- the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow -- so large-scale battery storage will become more important. Investment in battery storage alone is expected to reach $20 billion in 2022.
Utilities are increasingly participating in green energy deals. A new Ernst and Young report confirms that now is the time to invest.
Of course, it’s not only utilities that have the power. Individual households and businesses can invest in their own renewable energy sources. The most common way to do so is by putting solar panels on rooftops. This is known as a “distributed energy” system because it’s not centrally produced, but rather produced in areas distributed around the service territory.
When paired with battery storage systems and electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, these homes and businesses can transform into what are known as “microgrids,” which can help prevent blackouts and otherwise help utilities manage their load.
Utilities have the opportunity to promote these programs by providing incentives like rebates or net metering policies to give money to customers who provide excess energy back to the grid. One great way is to incentivize home charging stations. Enel X Way has worked with utilities to help with this—more on that later!
By pairing rooftop solar and EV charging stations, utilities can help their regions move away from fossil fuels, one home at a time.
The best way to clean up electricity is to stop using it in the first place! It’s often more cost-effective, too. This is why several renewable energy policies have an efficiency component.
There are many ways utilities can promote energy efficiency. Here are just a few:
• Incentives for customers to switch from fossil fuels to clean electricity, or “fuel switching.”
• Educate customers on how to switch from propane to electric heat pumps, from gas stoves to electric convection ovens.
• Promote weatherization programs, to seal windows and doors.
And more! Check out the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s roadmap to help utilities plan their efficiency pathways.
To serve electricity around the clock with intermittent sources like wind and solar, utilities should invest in “smart grids” to help. Smart grids can help manage peak demand and incentivize customers to use electricity during non-peak hours. The necessary components are:
• Advanced metering infrastructure
• Smart distribution boards and circuit breakers integrated with home control and demand response
• Load control switches and smart appliances
• Green energy resources and energy storage
• Broadband and/or wireless monitoring of all of the above
Enel X Way has worked with many utilities around the country to create data-informed strategies that improve smart grid capabilities.
For example, JuiceNet is a communication, control, and intelligence platform that dynamically matches drivers’ charging patterns, real-time input and signals from grid operators and utilities to aggregate and manage charging station demand.
Enel X Way has worked with utilities across the country—like Xcel Energy, PSEG Long Island, PG&E, and more—to design and implement smart charging programs. With JuiceNet for Utilities and other hands-on programs, we can help design online energy marketplace research programs, create customer awareness campaigns, help install smart chargers, and provide data insights.
How might we design a smart charging program that’s right for your utility?