What is a utility, exactly? What does it do? The simple answer, of course, is that it sells electricity or natural gas or both. But that’s changing as utilities offer more and more value-added services for customers.
They’re doing so because their customers want to capture energy resilience and sustainability. They want to lower energy costs. And they’re beginning to look to utilities for climate-friendly vehicle fuel.
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Microgrids offer one way to meet these customer desires so, not surprisingly, more utilities are adding microgrids to their portfolio of value-added services, along with electric vehicle charging, battery storage, virtual power plants, distributed energy resources, smart electric panels, home and building electrification, time-of-use rates, smart meters, direct load control, demand response, energy efficiency measures and more.
As a result, “the stodgy” utility is quickly becoming a thing of the past, said Joe Woomer, vice president of grid and technical solutions for Dominion Energy, a Virginia-based investor-owned utility that operates in 13 states.
“I’ve worked here for 35 years. The pace of change today is more exciting than anything I’ve seen in my career,” he said in an interview with Microgrid Knowledge.
We wanted to learn more about these transformations so, during the first quarter of this year, we interviewed a range of utilities of various sizes and types about the value-added services they now offer — and what they’ve got on the drawing board.
How do they choose and institute these programs? Do they stem from climate strategy or integrated resource plans? Are they tackling them solo or turning to contractors, and, if so, what are they looking for in partners?
What stumbling blocks do they face in bringing the services to customers? Are they primarily regulatory, financial or technical? And how do these programs change the utility-customer relationships?
Mismanaged expectations are one problem several utilities noted. The customer hears about the possibility of a cool new gadget and assumes it’s as easy to buy and activate as an iPhone.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding, people think, ‘Hey, just give me a battery.’ Well, there is cost, maintenance, setbacks … So a lot of our time goes into education,” said Woomer.
Over the next few months, we intend to roll out our findings in a report and a series of articles profiling the utilities that we interviewed. But before we do that, we’d like to capture additional information and seek help from Microgrid Knowledge readers. We are launching a survey, which we ask you to take to increase our understanding of utility activity. Please feel free to pass the link along to others who may offer additional insight, especially those working for or with utilities.
We will offer you a copy of the results if you take the survey. Better yet you’ll be eligible for a Ruko U11 Pro Drone with 4K Camera for Adults, 52 Min Flight Time, 5G FPV GPS Drone for Beginners with Live Video, Brushless Motor, Auto Return, Follow Me, Circle Fly, RC Quadcopter with 2 batteries!
Thanks for your help! And please watch for our article series on utility transformation, value-added services and microgrids.
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