Renewable Energy Innovation Is for Every Utility
Huge strides in energy storage, peak management, and smart grid technological innovations are all around us. Historically, demand-side management initiatives often involved demand response programs, a tried and tested conservation strategy designed to mitigate usage during high periods of peak demand. Over the last several years, however, investments in renewable energy projects have skyrocketed, thanks in part to U.S. legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act or the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, paving the way for EV charging programs, virtual power plants, and more. While the adoption of renewable energy resources has proven sluggish historically, the combination of actionable legislation, consumer interest, and a cultural push toward green energy have helped usher in a promising era of renewable capacities.
A Snapchat of Renewable Energy Change
In 2019, we reported that the Smart Electric Power Alliance’s (SEPA) Top 10 utility awards for solar and energy storage – most megawatts added, and watts per customer added – included four electric coops, with a number of munis also in the mix.
Shortly thereafter, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association shared the results last month, touting the winning coops. Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative (Lihue, Hawaii) landed at the top of the list of utilities for adding the most watt-hours of energy storage per customer (3,000), more than six times that of its closest competitor. The addition of a new solar-plus-storage facility, combined with its Tesla facility, allows the Hawaiian coop to meet 40% of peak evening demand with stored solar power.
The coops ranking in the top 10 for energy storage among utilities that added the most annual megawatt-hours included Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative, Connexus Energy (Ramsey, Minnesota), and United Power Inc. (Brighton, Colorado).
These and so many other outstanding coops were and continue to be instrumental in demonstrating that innovation can happen at any utility – no matter the size or structure. Adaptation and innovation in renewable energy, battery storage, and so many other categories happen when organizations take a consumer-centric approach. And those organizations that have been the most successful are working closely with their communities to find flexible, sustainable solutions that meet their customers’ needs.
How Renewable Energy Technologies Have Gained Ground
By contrast, in the recently released 2022 SEPA Utility Transformation Awards, many of the organizations honored are in several cases much larger in scale. The categories listed paint a compelling picture of change, from distributed energy resource (DER) interconnection projects to EV managed charging initiatives. For example, a report released earlier this year states that 16% of households in the United States with access to the internet own a smart thermostat. Coupled with promising market growth, as well as broader national access to the internet, utilities are poised to enact the demand flexibility initiatives necessary to enhance grid resiliency, lower energy costs, and mitigate climate change.
Furthermore, these national and market strategic investments signal confidence in demand flexibility as a useful—and necessary—step toward a more reliable grid. Through load management and peak shaving strategies, utilities from IOUs, Municipals, and Cooperatives are finding opportunities to meet customer needs, while creating promising new revenue streams.
Renewable Energy Innovation is For Every Utility Conclusion
In the U.S., summer outages were averted in large part due to renewable energy technologies including solar, EVs, battery storage, and smart home devices like thermostats and water heaters. Not only is the market demonstrating repeatedly that investments in renewable energy are increasing, but confidence in renewable energy technologies is growing.
Article originally published on September, 2019, with updates on October 6, 2023.