How grid edge technologies are transforming distributed generation
Moderator: David Pretyman, Principal, Advisory, Corporate Strategy, KPMG in the U.S.
Tad Neeley, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Banyan Infrastructure
Lidija Sekaric, Director, Strategy and Marketing, Siemens
Camilo Serna, Vice President of corporate strategy, DTE Energy
Polly Shaw, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs and Communications, STEM
David Pretyman, Principal, Advisory, Corporate Strategy, KPMG LLP (U.S.), served as moderator for a diverse panel representing utilities, service providers and infrastructure financing professionals, with a particular focus on the commercial and industrial (C&I) sector.
Software as a game changer
Polly Shaw, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs and Communications, STEM, Inc., noted falling prices are a key driver for increased adoption of renewables-based storage solutions by C&I customers. Polly also noted that the energy industry is in a period of lower renewable energy prices, increasing the market penetration of intermittent generation (requiring batteries) to support C&I customers as well as grid operators.
However, she emphasized that “the real game changer with storage is not about the hardware but the software, and how it operates as a platform to shift, pivot and dispatch services within a few minutes.” With the right software, grid operators can deliver highly time-specific and location-specific services to help smooth the intermittency from renewables and alleviate grid constraints. Software can help C&I customers lower their bills through demand management and provide greater control over their energy needs and spending.
What do customers want?
Mac Nash, Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions, National Grid, offered the perspective of a for-profit, investor-owned energy company. He agreed with Shaw about the importance of price as a driver of adoption but added that customer demand was equally important.
“Trying to find what customers want is really the biggest question,” he said. He added that his company also explores the role of energy affiliates and other third parties that could potentially provide services to their customers.
Nash also addressed the demands by C&I customers for sustainable energy products, “We’ve always had a strong energy-efficiency program, so that’s a push in that direction. One of the mechanisms to support that is to decouple rewards and utility remuneration from volumetric charges, so we only pay on the cost of deployment,” he said. “We’re also looking at how customers’ expectations are changing. The question is always how the utility can add value and play a role in supporting renewables.”
The utility is well positioned to support increasingly engaged C&I customers who want bundled solutions, such as solar plus storage and energy efficiency retrofits.
A one-stop shop
Lidija Sekaric, Director of Marketing and Strategy, Siemens, talked about C&I customers who work with a larger solutions provider. “Being a one-stop shop is an advantage, definitely.”
Different customers have different needs, she said, and it helps to be able to provide end-to-end solutions, along with the flexibility to offer more than one type of product and the control to dispatch products in terms of generation and storage.
Sekaric added that for some customers, having to choose among a number of complex options can be intimidating, so it helps them to consult with a provider that has experience with multiple vertical industries where a customer solution can be customized to holistically address their energy needs.
A clear demand
Tad Neeley, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Banyan Infrastructure, discussed issues relevant to financing for grid edge technology initiatives.
“We’re seeing the cost going down, and rooftop solar in California shows how this can happen,” he said. “California is really not a deregulated state, but all of a sudden, a bunch of solar companies showed up. There was a financing mechanism that allowed this to happen. Now the C&I space is trying to do the same thing. Their systems are more complex and in some ways more costly, but the C&I customers want it; there’s a clear demand.”
Looking ahead, Neeley discussed C&I customers and distribution. “If the utility at the distribution level starts to act like an independent system operator, where they are just giving the right pricing signal, then that becomes a role that’s easy to understand,” he said. “Customers are showing up with their own distribution systems. I think that’s where things are headed.”