Last week, we talked about incentivizing energy efficiency at the utility level and what that might mean for distributed energy and onsite power (“Carrot or Stick,”). Specifically, I focused on a recent report by the ACEEE that concluded profit motive can motivate private utilities to adopt and expand energy efficiency programs (Carrots for Utilities: Providing Financial Returns for Utility Investments in Energy Efficiency), and I wondered how this incentive-based approach could impact the demand for onsite power and renewable energy.
In related news, this week Comverge Inc. released its own energy efficiency survey on the expectations and budgetary plans of electric utilities for the coming year. With a focus on energy management at the provider and user level, the survey revealed that utilities plan to allocate a significant portion of their budgets to energy efficiency resources (www.comverge.com/newsroom/comverge-press-releases/2011/January-31,-2011). More than 100 utility executives participated in the survey, and according to their responses:
* Ninety-two percent anticipate an increase in energy efficiency investments of more than 10% in 2011.
*Twenty-two percent anticipate a budget increase for energy efficiency programs of more than 20% for the year.
* Open standards were supported by 35% of respondents.
* Measurement and verification of results were listed as a critical feature of future energy management protocols by 20% of the survey participants.
* Nineteen percent of respondents felt that any energy management systems should allow for control and automation capabilities, while 8% listed accessibility and portability, and 3% listed single-user interface as important components.
The survey also highlighted the continued skepticism felt by many utility executives about the smart grid. In a similar survey conducted in March of 2010, Comverge found 27% of respondents felt that any measurable benefits of the smart grid would not occur for another one to three years. In the current survey, 26% of respondents still believed it would still take up to three years for the fruition of the smart grid.
Because we’ve always focused on the integral relationship between the smart grid and onsite power (particularly when it comes to the incorporation of renewable energy into a national energy infrastructure and the importance of energy storage within that infrastructure), I think the respondent’s opinions about the actual implementation of the smart grid are interesting and relevant:
The increased usage of renewable energy was cited by 15% of respondents as a major challenge the smart grid must be overcome.
* Another 29% pointed to aging infrastructure as the greatest barrier to the smart grid implementation.
* And half of the respondents stated consumer education and awareness were the two biggest obstacles to overcome—even before cost and security concerns
So what do you think? While electric utilities and distributed generation systems tend to inhabit different spheres, does the smart grid overlap between the two mean that we should pay attention to the leading edge of the trends and opinions of energy executives in charge of centralized energy systems? What do you make of the utilities’ concerns over consumer education and awareness—do you really think customer knowledge trumps security and cost when it comes to smart grid implementation? Although a relatively small percentage of the survey respondents do acknowledge the challenge of incorporating renewables into the smart grid, what do you make of the apparent lack of awareness (or prioritization) of energy storage and reliability?