Hot enough for you? The ‘utility of the future’ needs greater transformation to address ambitious climate goals

(ACEEE blog, 22 Jul 2019) As the United States swelters under yet another heat wave, it underscores the urgency of taking action to mitigate climate change.

Much greater utility transformation—with energy efficiency at its core—will be needed to address the climate challenge. Yet state efforts on the utility of the future seem to be falling short.

Many states and industry experts in the U.S. have been discussing and promoting the concept of the ‘utility of the future’—envisioned as a paradigm shift in the way electricity is produced and delivered. In these discussions, Is the level of focus on energy efficiency and climate up to the task of what the utility sector must contribute in response to the climate crisis?

I recently presented research on this topic at the European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Summer Study in early June. While some states are adopting bold new clean energy and climate policies, the utility-of-the-future efforts have not generally been driven by climate objectives, and not at all by energy efficiency objectives.

An industry in flux

The electric utility industry in the US is facing many challenges. These include: aging infrastructure needing major investment; economic pressure from slow demand growth; the need to integrate new technology; competitive pressures from alternative suppliers and customer-sited resources; and societal obligations from environmental, equity, and other policy objectives. As the industry faces major transformation, several leading states have begun to develop a utility of the future that addresses those challenges.  

Overlaying this context is a growing awareness of the urgency of addressing climate change.  The recent United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report tells us that we have barely a decade to make dramatic changes. This highlights the critical importance of what emerges from utility-of-the-future efforts in the US. To achieve the necessary greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, the US needs the full-fledged participation, and indeed leadership, by our utility companies in promoting energy efficiency.

External link

ACEEE blog, 22 Jul 2019: Hot enough for you? The ‘utility of the future’ needs greater transformation to address ambitious climate goals