Executive Insight, Metering, Outage Management

Utility industry has more influence on federal energy policy than ever

ATLANTA, Nov. 14, 2001 — The utility industry today has more political influence on federal energy policy than ever before, several industry experts said last week in a panel discussion.

The panel discussion took place last week in San Diego as part of advanCES 2001, the annual CES International customer conference.

Janice Case, chairman of Cadence Network Inc. and a former senior vice president at Florida Progress Corp., offered the four-person advanCES panel’s lone dissenting opinion. Despite strong ties between the utility industry and top Bush administration officials, the industry does not have more influence over federal energy policy than during past administrations, she said.

“Going forward I think there are going to be a lot of [issues on the political agenda] in this country, and energy may or may not be” at the top of the list, Case said, noting that defense and other industries are likely to take center stage in these times.

Other panelists included Ken Geisler, vice chairman and founder of CES International; Marc McCluskey, research director utilities applications for AMR Research in Boston; and Phil Musser, editor-in-chief of Power Quality magazine. The panel tackled a number of industry topics, including the need for new information systems geared toward helping utilities succeed in a deregulated market and the future of new power technologies.

Next-Generation Systems/Trends for Utilities

Geisler said the next generation of information systems would allow utilities to not only provide consumers with real-time information during power outages, but also operate the electrical network more efficiently and reliably in response to customer needs. The next generation of information systems, he said, will provide for the “dynamic management of the utility’s assets down to the point of service in response to real-time market signals.”

McCluskey said AMR Research studies indicate that utility information- technology executives possess ample data that, if usable, would enable them to head off network problems before they occur. But too often, these executives say, they do not have real-time information systems in place to harness and analyze data in a meaningful way.

Musser identified several trends that he believes are helping utilities better serve customers. For example, Gulf Power, a unit of Southern Company, in the 1990s instituted a “variable pricing” program that allows customers to shift their use of electricity in response to the fluctuating price of electricity.

“The primary value the customer derived from this, the value proposition, was they had some control over the usage of electricity in their home,” Musser said, adding that several years of data indicate the average residential customer sees a 15 percent reduction in their bills with variable pricing.

New Power Technologies Face Uphill Battle, But Offer Potential

Musser also discussed how distributed generation is affecting utilities and their customers. He said that while many of today’s DG technologies are interesting, their practicality and acceptance would be limited in the short term because they still cost too much.

While none of the panelists debunked outright the potential of new power technologies, they agreed that unless information systems and standards were developed and promoted, the full potential of DG and other power technologies could remain murky for the foreseeable future.

However, new power technologies got a boost yesterday from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who delivered an energy speech in Houston.

“Improvements in fuel cell technology, for example, hold considerable promise in a wide variety of commercial applications,” Greenspan said. “With rapid scientific advances, it is not inconceivable that technological breakthroughs will allow unconventional energy sources to play a larger role in meeting our demand for energy than is currently the case.”

Greenspan added that improvements to and investments in energy delivery would be critical to the successful adoption of such technologies.

“An updated and improved means of energy transport, especially electric power transmission and distribution, will also be essential,” he said.

For more information about upcoming events, see Electric Light & Power’s event coverage at http://elp.pennnet.com/Events/ELP/ELP_event_content.cfm?Section=Events&SubSection=2001.