The REAL Movers & Shakers

The Obama-Era U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) is currently awaiting a decision from the U.S. DC Circuit Court of Appeals as to whether the CPP should be held in abeyance or remanded back to the EPA to follow statutory rulemaking procedures should the Trump administration wish to delay implementation or make changes to the plan. Regardless of the CPP’s fate and of the administration’s policy positions related to energy and climate change, significant state-level and private sector actions have been taken over the past decade with respect to the implementation of environmental sustainability and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction programs. Given the significant momentum created by these actions, it appears unlikely that the administration’s opposition to climate change initiatives, including the U.S.’s exit from the Paris Climate Accord, will significantly damper continued activity related to the adoption of renewable energy, sustainability programs, and resiliency technologies and initiatives.


Governors and state-level legislators and regulators are increasingly recognizing that energy efficiency, peak load management, and renewable energy are critical state-level opportunities that keep money in the local economy and create jobs.

According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) in its 2016 State Scorecard report, “Utilities across the U.S. invested approximately $7.7 billion in energy efficiency over the past year. Meanwhile, states are also spurring investment through advancements in building energy codes, transportation planning, and leading by example in their own facilities and fleets. These investments reap large benefits, giving businesses, governments, and consumers more control over how and when they use energy.”

Also, according to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, (NCETC) 60% or 29 of 50 U.S. states (plus Washington, DC and three U.S. territories) have currently adopted legislatively approved Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) mandating that some percentage of each electric utility’s generation portfolio consist of renewable-generated electricity. As examples, the state of Hawaii has mandated that 100% of utility generated power be from renewable sources by the year 2045, New York and California have both imposed a standard of 50% by 2030, and in Colorado, a standard of 50% by 2020 has been imposed.

Add to this the fact that NCETC also reported that in the first quarter of 2017, 148 actions were taken across 37 states related to grid modernization efforts. In this context, grid modernization includes utility business model/rate and regulatory reforms along with microgrid, energy storage, and demand response initiatives that some form of state-level action was taken on. The top three types of actions taken were as follows:

  • Advanced grid technologies

  • Proposed policy changes

  • Financial incentives


According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, “the number of companies that have placed sustainability as a top management agenda item jumped from 46% in 2010 to 65% in 2014. The number of companies without a sustainability business case and value proposition is also declining: between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of companies that had not created a sustainability business case dropped from 42% to 23%.”

And according to GTM Research, “22 of the Fortune 100 companies have committed to procuring 100% of their energy from renewable sources, and 71 have a public target for sustainability or renewable energy. Corporations are already on par with utilities as the largest source of demand for new renewable energy and large companies have already contracted for 6 gigawatts of new utility-scale solar and wind projects since 2014. Additionally, more than half of new wind power contracts signed in 2015 came from non-utility buyers.

Google recently announced it will be the first to reach 100 percent renewable consumption in 2017. They and many other notable companies who have committed to the so-called RE100 have paved the way for others, both because of their public commitment and because they have surmounted complex regulatory, financial, and technical hurdles to make their purchases. Google’s 100 percent renewable white paper lays out its strategy in detail for all other corporations to see; it will likely become a roadmap for others seeking to follow suit.


Utility companies may be the linchpin of corporate transformation in the U.S. electricity sector. According to GTM Research, “23 percent of all large-scale solar installed in the U.S. in 2016 was procured voluntarily by utilities under no federal or state mandates. Six of the top 10 owners of grid-scale solar in the U.S. are affiliates of utilities, including Southern Power (Southern Company), NextEra Energy Resources (Florida Power & Light), and MidAmerican Energy Holdings (NV Energy).”

American Electric Power (AEP), a coal-heavy Ohio electric utility, told The Wall Street Journal, “Part of our plan to invest in renewables is to diversify our generation portfolio. All of those investments don’t change with a change in administration; it’s a long-term strategy.” And according to Forbes in 2016, Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., “has reduced its number of coal-generated megawatt hours (MWh) from 70% in 1980 to 30% today. Since sulfur dioxide emissions are reduced by 99 percent by switching from coal to natural gas, Duke will continue replacing coal-fired plants with new gas-fired plants, as is the case with two plants of a combined capacity of 1,920 MW in 2017.”

Lastly, utilities will need to go beyond renewable procurement and construction. As more renewable energy enters the electricity grid, utilities and grid operators will determine how to integrate these resources reliably, efficiently, and cost-effectively. Here, too, many companies are taking a proactive approach. Among the myriad of solutions being tested and rolled out by utilities are battery storage, intelligent solar inverters, new electricity rate designs, and advanced utility analytics and controls.

For over 100 years, the public electric grid has been operated through one-way flows of electricity and information. Thanks to innovations in power generation, sensor technology, computer processing and analytics, and data transmission, grid costs can be reduced and efficiency improved. The development of new technologies has also enabled two-way flows of data and power on the electricity system. Digitization and bi-directional flows are key enablers of a new range of grid capabilities, including increased flexibility, higher system efficiency, reduced energy consumption, and increased consumer options and value.

For these reasons and many others, electric utilities have little choice but to continue moving down a path that includes incorporating greater quantities of higher efficiency, lower cost, and faster reacting distributed energy resources and central power generation technologies within their portfolios. These same utilities will also be able to avoid constraint-related transmission and distribution (T&D) system upgrade costs by incorporating a wide variety of front- and behind-the-meter energy storage and demand management technologies that only a few years ago, were not economically or technically viable options.

The above shift is evidenced by the quantity and velocity of change occurring in the electric utility industry with regard to grid modernization actions. In the first quarter of 2017 alone, 86 formal state-level actions were taken in the following areas:

  • Time-Varying Rates

  • Smart Grid Deployments

  • Energy Storage Targets

  • Microgrid & Energy Storage Deployments

  • Grid Modernization Investigations

  • Rate Reform Studies

  • Energy Storage Rebates & Tax Credits

  • Microgrid Rules

  • Energy Storage Studies

For assistance in better understanding how you can leverage and benefit from the above trends and actions, please reach out to us soon.

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