The following article was written by S. Michael Holly, the Chairman of Sorgo Fuels & Chemicals, Inc. Sorgo has developed technology for the production of ethanol, electricity and protein from sweet sorghum. Mike was formerly an alternative energy engineer and business analyst with the Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development. He holds masters degrees in chemical engineering and business administration from the University of Minnesota.
Many U.S. special interests are misrepresenting wind power costs, including the wind industry, environmental groups, utility monopolies, independent system operators, educational and research institutions, and even federal and state governments. On September 24, Bill Ritter, the current director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University and former Governor of Colorado, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “Long-term contracts for wind energy are being signed by utilities in several states in the range of 3 cents per kWh over 20 years” (1). Xcel Energy, the nation’s leading wind-generating electric utility, declares “wind power is simply the cheapest resource” (2).
By Sam Shrank and Raphael Tehranian
Utilities find themselves in unfamiliar positions as they chart their course in areas such as alternative fuel vehicles, smart grid, and distributed generation. In this last piece of our four-part series (See Part I by Mat McDermid, Finding the Regulated Utility Role in a Shifting Energy Landscape; Part II by Sam Shrank, How Behavioral Science Can Increase Energy Efficiency Adoption; and Part III by Jill Bunting and Raphael Tehranian, How Utilities Can Better Source Innovation), we discuss how partnerships with individual large customers to test new offerings, alongside traditional pilots, can help utilities find solid ground. Partnerships can both demonstrate to regulators that customers benefit from utility involvement in these areas and help utilities scope their ideal role.
Utilities have a long and successful track record of using technology demonstration pilots to better understand new innovations, test their ability to solve problems, provide increased or new benefits, and gauge customer and stakeholder interest. In a changing business environment, however, expanding into more customer-centric pilots would greatly help utilities position themselves to protect and expand their market standing.
Customer-centric energy partnerships of this type cover a broad spectrum, but there are a few required elements. First, they must begin with the selection of a customer partner, not a technology or utility offering. Second, the customer’s goals should determine the expanded or new offering, or most likely suite of offerings, included. Third, rather than lasting for a predetermined and usually short amount of time, they are meant to be merely the beginning of an ongoing relationship.
By Jill Bunting and Raphael Tehranian
The speed of innovation outside the walls of utilities outstrips the speed of innovation within. As new and disruptive vendors, technologies, and business models enter the market, many utilities have seemed unsure about what their role is or should be. In the third in our four-part series (See Part I by Mat McDermid, Finding the Regulated Utility Role in a Shifting Energy Landscape; and Part II by Sam Shrank, How Behavioral Science Can Increase Energy Efficiency Adoption), we discuss how utilities can and should leverage their unique position to accelerate and manage the deployment of innovations for the benefits of all customers.
Here are three roles utilities can play to better manage innovation in a changing market.
The ambassador: help customers understand the benefits of new innovations
Technology advancements are broadening customer access to a wide range of new energy services. But technology alone is never enough: customers must feel comfortable incorporating these advancements into their daily lives. Utilities are well-suited to providing customers with answers on a wide range of energy services and moving them up the adoption curve. They have already achieved significant success in areas such as energy efficiency, where the average cost per kWh saved through utility energy efficiency programs is just 2.5 cents. Areas such as electric vehicles are opportunities for utilities to build on this success as ambassadors for new energy services.
By Sam Shrank/GreenOrder
Utility operations are being forced to evolve as customer expectations shift, technological change continues and new players enter adjacent markets. As utilities chart their course in areas such as energy efficiency, smart grid, and distributed generation, they find themselves in unfamiliar positions. The second in our four-part series (See Part I by my colleague, Mat McDermid, Finding the Regulated Utility Role in a Shifting Energy Landscape), we discuss how utilities can leverage behavioral science research as they expand into markets where they are not a monopoly and customers need to be convinced about the benefits of the products and services offered.
Since setting up auto-pay the day I moved into my apartment, I’ve given no thought to my utility bill. Given that my job is to analyze and advise utilities, I’d venture to say most people are no more engaged. However, with an evolving set of customer offerings—energy efficiency (EE), alternative fuel vehicles, demand response, and the like—many utilities are realizing that they may require better, different, or more communication. In short, they are discovering what it means to sell.
And not only are they beginning to market things customers may not feel they need, they now have competitors as well, particularly in the EE market. Various other entities are looking to advise large electricity and gas users about how to lower their bills and provide help with financing, sell devices directly to customers that increase automation and control, or take over the utility’s role as the provider of EE offerings funded through utility bill surcharges. All of these reduce both the direct benefit to utilities from performance incentives and the indirect benefits from higher customer satisfaction, improved regulatory relationships, and perceived leadership.
By Mat McDermid/GreenOrder
Energy is being reshaped as more than just a commodity: evolving customer expectations, new technologies and market entrants, and vying interests are challenging the traditional regulated utility model. However, regulated utilities possess an inherent advantage other industries could only dream of: a largely protected customer base. The first in our four-part series, we set the stage for how focusing on the customer can provide the pathway to growth and reinforce the relevance of the utility role in the future energy landscape.
For decades, end users’ relationship with energy (whether gas or electricity) has been relatively constant: our lights and stove work on demand, we receive a bill every month (that we don’t understand), and occasionally the power goes out. Regulated utilities earn reliable returns for keeping this system humming, which regulators make sure they actually do. This model is now being challenged, however.
The following guest article was written by Mathias Aarre Maehlum, an Energy and Environmental engineering student from Norway. He frequently writes on the topics of solar power and other green techs. Read more of his work at his site Energy Informative.
The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) has recently published a study that looks at the price differences in the solar panel industry in Germany and the U.S. By looking at pre-incentivized prices paid for customer-owned systems (third-party-owned systems were not included in the study), they were able to pinpoint the major differences between the two countries.
In the last five years, German solar panel prices have dropped by more than 50%. Some places in the U.S. are almost on par with German prices, but on average the study found a pretty significant gap:
Image source: Environmental Energy Technologies Division
Unfair Profits or Lots of Volume?
Most people, if asked to name off the top of their head which industries were taking advantage of consumers to generate insanely high profits, would likely have the oil and gas industry at the top of their list. Isn’t it a well-known fact that with gas prices spiraling through the roof, “Big Oil” is by far the most profitable industry out there, hence they must be taking advantage of consumers?
Actually, it’s not that simple. But public opinion would have it otherwise.
In fact, industries such as internet information providers and personal computers rank well above major integrated oil and gas (Big Oil) when it comes to profit margins. The simple definition of profit margin is: A ratio of profitability calculated as net income divided by revenues, or net profits divided by sales. It measures how much out of every dollar of sales a company actually keeps in earnings.
Generation from wind turbines in the United States increased 27% in 2011 from the prior year, and is up 350% since 2006.
“During the past five years capacity additions of wind turbines were the main driver of the growth in wind power output,” the U.S. Department of Energy reported. “As the amount of wind generation increases, electric power system operators have faced challenges with integrating increasing amounts of this intermittent generation source into their systems.”
Foreign Oil Imports at Lowest Level Since Before Y2K
U.S. crude oil imports have fallen to their lowest level since 1999, according to data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), an arm of the U.S. Department Of Energy (DOE).
Crude oil imports for 2011 averaged 8.9 million barrels per day (bbl/d), falling below the 9 million bbl/d mark for the first time since 1999, and down 12 percent since hitting a peak of 10.1 million bbl/d in 2005.
Gas Price Breakdown: It’s All About the Cost of Crude Oil
“What am I paying for in a gallon of gas?” is a question on people’s minds and often posed by regular visitors to Consumer Energy Report. With the assistance of the Energy Information Administration, who provided the data (see the methodology they used for calculating the component percentages at the end of this column), I was able to break it down into a series of charts from 2000-2012.
For a more detailed look into the recent spike in gas prices, see: Charting the Dramatic Gas Price Rise of the Last Decade