This piece was originally published as the president’s column in the January 2017 issue of electroindustry.
Have you ever fast-forwarded through commercials or turned off cable in favor of streaming a movie? Just as technological advancements increase consumer control over media consumption, new technologies enable consumer control of electricity consumption.
What was a vertically integrated electric system—with monopoly utilities owning the entire system from generation to transmission to distribution—began changing about 30 years ago, and the rate of change has increased since then. Beginning in the 1990s, deregulation allowed some customers to choose from whom they purchased electricity. Today, driven in part by cost reductions in solar photovoltaics, energy storage, and energy-efficient technologies such as LED lighting (which have come down in cost by 64 percent, 73 percent, and 94 percent since 2008, respectively), customers have more choices than ever, including generating and selling their own electricity.
A more fully engaged customer base profoundly affects electrical manufacturers by allowing those who participate the opportunity to buy and sell electricity on a local, transactional basis, further blurring the lines between utilities and consumers.
Some of these transactions will be facilitated directly by NEMA members’ products. A recently announced project in Brooklyn, New York, for example, will be the first in the world to pair a microgrid with a peer-to-peer electricity trading platform using blockchain technology—a way to securely track and store information about the sale and purchase of electricity from distributed generation systems (see page 8). That microgrid will allow distributed generation owners to sell excess electricity—much of it from rooftop solar systems—directly to their neighbors.
As customers add more distributed energy resources to the grid, utilities will be challenged to monitor and control those resources. NEMA is partnering with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as part of our strategic initiative on the Internet of Things to develop the NEMA CommTest to determine whether distributed resources can communicate with existing control systems before they are installed. It will enhance the operability, interoperability, and security of grid-connected devices.
New technologies are changing the face of the electroindustry and enabling increased customer choice and control over energy use, just as telecommunication technologies have shaped our media choices. NEMA will continue to innovate and evolve along with our members to catalyze the transition to the future of the electroindustry.