The Nimble, Responsive Energy Future is Upon Us

 “The future ain’t what it used to be,” Yogi Berra famously said.

From where I sit in the world of distributed energy resources, that promises to be a good thing for everyone. Today, we all have a front-row seat to energy industry disruption on a transformative scale.

This is driven in large part by new technologies that power energy strategies for businesses, large and small. These organizations require reliable and resilient electricity to compete and thrive. They can’t afford downtime on their path to innovation, growth and next-generation products.

As businesses advance, so should the way they purchase, consume and rely on energy. The good news is that’s starting to happen. Not in small, evolutionary ways, but in major, revolutionary transformations. As the energy world fully adapts to customer needs, a more nimble, responsive future is upon us.

But how did we get here?

In the past, when utilities needed more energy, the answer was always the same: build another big traditional-generation power plant, the transmission lines to go with it, then pass the costs to customers.

With new technologies, this old approach has lost its advantage. Indeed, as more companies pursue cleaner, more reliable energy, new approaches can make both of these goals a reality. As costs for renewable and sustainable solutions fall, bigger, better and more beneficial energy possibilities emerge. Just in time, too, as currently 135 companies belong to RE100, an organization of the world’s most influential corporations committed to 100 percent renewable energy.

While embracing cleaner energy is important, companies and organizations must appreciate that solar panels and wind turbines alone won’t get us to a sustainable energy future, and rising demand is the primary consideration. Simply put, our businesses and industries want more energy. The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts near seven percent growth in commercial and industrial energy demand between now and 2022.

Along with greater demand, the large customers’ energy needs have become more complex. And, since the sun doesn’t always shine and wind doesn’t always blow, we must balance these intermittent resources for a more responsive, diverse and dynamic grid—one we can flexibly manage to support everyone’s power needs, unique demands and cost-conscious constraints.

This is where disruption takes hold, and the powerful possibilities that come with it. Enhancements arise when electric power markets let competition deliver solutions that are flexible and affordable—and good for the environment. These elements help foster distributed energy technologies, which is a key to helping sustainable energy thrive.

Let’s also remember the importance of resilient electricity. Mission-critical companies need uninterruptable power to protect against grid outages and natural disasters. Here again, disruption delivers better solutions. NRG, for one, offers an example: a new version of distributed energy

technology we call asset-backed demand response. We install natural gas backup generators on a customer’s site and, during high grid demand, remotely activate that generator to power the customer’s operations. This helps reduce grid stress so both the customer and provider capture energy savings, and lets renewable energy maintain its value despite its intermittent nature.

The electricity industry’s challenge lies in how to manage this emerging hybrid grid comprising thousands of distributed resources. We need smart people working on asset management software, big data, analytics, machine learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity. These topics deserve their own separate commentary, but together they will provide companies with the flexibility to adapt energy strategies to market conditions in real time. As these technologies improve, it gets easier to address risk, budget outcomes and larger sustainability initiatives.

Integrating it all won’t be easy. Disruptive technologies never are. Organizations should partner with experts to get the best insights on trends, block out noise and execute a smart energy management strategy. And, if you do business in a regulated state, work with your public and business leaders and energy regulators to encourage smart policies and competition for an innovative electricity market. Rapid energy technology advancement and the search for solutions create fertile ground for collaboration. That’s a true path forward we can all chart and benefit from together.

The energy future certainly isn’t what it used to be. Here’s to disruption. 

About the author: Steven Moffitt is the president of Distributed Energy Resources within NRG Business Solutions. The DER unit includes; NRG Curtailment Solutions, NRG Advisory Services/BidURenergy, Energy Choice Solutions and NRG Reliability Solutions. The organizational alignment of these four companies allows DER to better leverage the combination of skills required to deliver Demand Response as well as other products to customers and the market. Prior to NRG, Moffitt was the chief operating officer at Comverge. He also had worked at Dynegy, Koch Industries and BG Group.

 

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