Where is energy’s cell phone?

June 5, 2009
By Elisa Wood June 4, 2009 Electric industry restructuring often gets criticized for failing to deliver the goods. It was supposed to not only drive down rates, but also spark innovative new technologies.  After all, deregulation of the telecommunications industry gave us the cell phone. Where is energy’s nifty gadget? Initiated more than a decade […]

By Elisa Wood

June 4, 2009

Electric industry restructuring often gets criticized for failing to deliver the goods. It was supposed to not only drive down rates, but also spark innovative new technologies.  After all, deregulation of the telecommunications industry gave us the cell phone. Where is energy’s nifty gadget?

Initiated more than a decade ago, electric deregulation has produced no such consumer hit. But it has led to innovation, albeit more complex and less tangible than the cell phone. For an example, listen to Lisa Cohn’s podcast: “How states can best use energy efficiency stimulus money” with Mark Sinclair of the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) http://www.realwriters.net/rew/rtlnkmr.htm.

Sinclair describes how a dozen or more states have served as laboratories over the last decade, laying the groundwork for today’s federal push to advance clean energy as a jobs builder. What got these states started? It turns out it was restructuring. CESA’s founder, Lew Milford, was an early advocate of restructuring and instrumental in the creation of rules in key states. He saw restructuring as an opportunity to open the door for development of clean energy, then largely a fringe resource. Milford pushed for a special utility rate structure, a systems benefit charge, that would channel funds into laboratory-like exploration at the state level.

Much of clean energy’s progress in the marketplace is due to these state programs:  “People tend to think somehow that these projects have appeared magically and that’s not the case… states have spent a significant amount of money putting dollars on the ground and then leveraging private capital to make those projects,” Milford says in an interview with E&E TV http://www.cleanenergystates.org/press/Milford_OnPoint-1.14.09_text.pdf.

Those states now offer specific templates for building clean energy economies that others can follow as they receive federal stimulus dollars. The clean energy states have tested rebates, grants and loans to stimulate markets. They’ve seen where poor regulation slows installations. They know what attracts clean energy companies and what drives them away.

By studying the work of experienced states, those new to clean energy can bypass years of experimentation.  So there lies an example of innovation from electric industry restructuring. Restructuring provided a mechanism for states to experiment with clean energy. Now, these pioneering efforts will save a lot of time and money for the states that are new to clean energy and find themselves with little time to ramp up the industry and attract jobs. True, electric restructuring did not produce a gadget that you can hold in your hand; instead it produced a clean energy roadmap, one that by many accounts could help create a lot of economic activity at time when it is most needed.

Visit Elisa Wood at www.realenergywriters.com and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

LinkedIn: Elisa Wood

Facebook:  Microgrids