Evolving Grid Ranks High With Utility Executives

Last month I attended the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) Annual Convention in Las Vegas, one of my favorite events because many of the speakers are CEOs of investor-owned utilities (IOUs). In past years, electricity generation was a big topic, but this year the evolving grid and disruptive technologies were the big topics.

The meeting occurred just a few days after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued details about its proposed 111(d) rule on greenhouse gas (GHG) performance standards for existing power plants. The ruling was discussed, but most talk was tied closely to the electricity grid. Several executives said it no longer matters what utilities think about EPA GHG regulations; the public has spoken, and the industry must adhere to changing regulations. Updating and revolutionizing the grid seem to be the biggest part of that strategy.

Utility executives also talked about the need for two-way electricity flow on the grid. They said the grid must support what customers want. This will require utilities to work with technology partners-vendors-to develop technologies to accommodate customers’ expectations. If utilities don’t step up and provide what customers want, new entrants will come in and take their customers.

Flat and, in some places, diminishing electricity sales also were discussed. Executives said developing a grid infrastructure that will allow utilities to offer value-added products and services is the best way to increase revenue as electricity sales decline.

Tom Fanning, vice chairman of EEI and chairman, president and CEO of Southern Co., said that even in today’s quickly changing operating environment, utilities’ main role hasn’t changed. Utilities must stay focused on providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable electricity, he said.

Increased investment in the grid is at the top of many IOUs’ spending lists. New and better technology, aging infrastructure, customers’ changing expectations, a more diverse generation mix, less base load power, new regulations and competition from outside the industry are the driving forces.

There are many challenges associated with the fast-paced changes in the industry, but there also are many opportunities, especially for those who work in electricity transmission and distribution.

I was thrilled to learn that the grid will play such a big role in transforming the electric utility industry. Planned investment in grid modernization is exciting, and those of us who work on POWERGRID International will do our best to provide you with the latest news about technology and trends as they unfold.

TERESA HANSEN   Editor in chief
TERESA HANSEN
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