Key Takeaways from the Virtual Peaker 2023 Empower Innovation Forum

Whew! Last week was a whirlwind for the Virtual Peaker team. We hosted our clients, strategic partners, and OEMs, as well as prospects here in Louisville (our home city!) for two and a half days of networking, collaboration, and energy industry education at the 2023 Empower Innovation Forum. Regular conference attendees know that by the end of an event like this,  your feet hurt, you’ve made many new friends and professional connections, and of course – your brain is fried from the overload of new information you’ve obtained! Rest assured, this is exactly what we were all feeling last Friday.

With a jam-packed schedule, thought-provoking keynotes, and panels, I walked away with some intriguing takeaways that I thought I might share.

Empower Innovation Forum Lesson #1: Education, education, education! Oh & communication!

That’s right, education is still greatly needed across the industry in all facets. As I sat in a room full of smart, utility, and DER-industry folks, it was apparent that there is so much room for education and communication across the board to ensure distributed energy resources (DERs) continue to become a viable source of grid reliability.

  1. Risk-averse utilities must eventually understand that renewable energy is an inevitability that once managed, will not disrupt, but enhance their systems.
  2. Nationally, we need devices under control to make a distributed grid work, since without customers we don’t have controllable DERs. While consumer buy-in is, for now, slow to progress, we still need more education about demand response programs, their benefits, and how to enroll in programs. Consumers need answers to questions like, how can I best charge my EV and when is the best time to charge? What is a TOU rate? What happens when a utility takes control of my smart thermostat?
  3. Utility program managers and marketing directors alike spoke about barriers to communicating with program participants. Breaking down the internal silos from one department to the next internally will drive synergies and allow for a streamlined program design process that synthesizes projects from across teams under the umbrella of a singular distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) or other DER management platform, saving money and expediting deployment with a one-size fits all solution.
  4. OEMs – Device partners of the world: you can help! Starting at the point of sale, customers can use greater education regarding the opportunities that they may receive from any product. Examples might include educating customers on their EV charging opportunities or directing them to specific BYOD programs that they may qualify for, which not only saves the customer money but also develops rapport and brand loyalty.

Empower Innovation Forum Lesson #2: EVs Are a Tricky DER, but a Necessary One!

Transportation electrification is happening and as auto manufacturers continue to sell and produce more EVs, we continue to see more challenges for the grid. Early adopter behavior might not be indicative of what the future will look like. As a broader market continues to adopt, we will need more industry-wide standards and infrastructure in place. EV OEMs, program managers, and Virtual Peaker all agreed that:

  1. Real value comes from DER stacking – Never before has flexible dispatch capabilities been needed, which is why Virtual Peaker has introduced the ability to group housing in demand flexibility programs through device type, location, and more. This allows utilities to minimize the impact of any demand event, without challenging program enrollee buy-in. Furthermore, make sure that all of your departments are talking and working together for the most affordable method of device control.
  2. Virtual power plants are coming, and Will support customer resilience soon!  While VPPs are still in their infancy, it’s clear device aggregation is the next phase of DR and a cost-effective means to a distributed grid. The real value of a VPP comes from mitigating peak load growth from electrification; providing peak capacity quickly and cost-effectively; and aggregating conservation to maximize peak demand efficiency.
  3. As keynote speaker Mark Dyson said, “The expansion of utility retail programs to provide compelling options for customer participation is essential to enable DER market access.”

Empower Innovation Forum Key Takeaways Conclusion

One thing is for sure, everyone who was in the room at the Empower Innovation Forum wants affordable and accessible energy for all. It was comforting to know we have people all across the varying aspects of the energy industry focused on finding a way to work together and create a clean, distributed energy future. Until our next event, let’s all keep pushing forward, one DER at a time, ushering in cleaner energy and a more sustainable and resilient grid.

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About The Author
Amber Mullaney blog author

With almost two decades of leadership, growth marketing, and communication experience, Amber Mullaney drives the strategy behind Virtual Peaker's marketing initiatives. A proud Texan native, she graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in Public Relations and Interpersonal Communication. She is passionate and experienced in managing brands, product lines, marketing programs, and driving cross-functional teams.

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