A Glimpse of the Future: Day 3
By Zachary Hoffman
COLUMBUS, OHIO (April 20, 2017) – If Ohio’s grid modernization efforts are to be successful, the PUCO’s most important partners will need to be the state’s traditional stakeholders.
“You now have two of our EDU’s saying ‘yes, we broadly agree,’” quipped Chairman Asim Z. Haque, after hearing the first panel members of the day compliment the effort of PowerForward. “These stars don’t align often.”
Throughout the first two days of PowerForward, the PUCO heard from experts from all across the country. Day three provided an opportunity to get the perspectives of Ohio’s stakeholders.
In the first panel of the day, Ram Sastry of American Electric Power (AEP) and Joe Bentley of AES Corporation (parent company to Ohio utility Dayton Power & Light Company) outlined the views of Ohio’s utilities on grid modernization and its importance in meeting customer needs.
“The perception of our customers in the past has been all about low cost and high reliability,” said Sastry. He noted, however, that the needs of those customers have changed; customers want more information and collaboration with their utility.
Sastry listed some of what AEP believes customers are interested in, including renewable energy, electric vehicle charging, home warranties and more services that provide information and control.
Noting that many of these services are already available, Sastry put forward the idea of turning the modern electric grid into a platform of sorts, comparing new grid based services to that of apps on the Apple App Store.
“We don’t know what new services and technology will look like in the future,” stated Sastry, “but what we would like to have in place is a platform to build upon.”
Bentley agreed with this sentiment, stating that it should be a priority for utilities to take responsibility for the platform and help to integrate more technologies and services to provide a better system for customers.
In the second panel of the day, Evan Wilson of IGS Energy Home Services, Thomas Hawes of Direct Energy/Centrica, Duncan Stiles of Just Energy and Joel Elkins of Think Energy by ENGIE provided a better picture of what some of the services on this new “platform” might look like.
“We go for practical products that every home can use,” stated Wilson.
Outlining one of the more successful services that his company has offered, Wilson spoke about utilizing customer data to provide bill credits for reduced usage during peak load hours. Wilson noted that customers responded positively to the program.
Stiles also discussed some services that utilize data, but noted that stakeholders need to be mindful when collecting customer’s information.
“Customers are much more willing to share information that they don’t need to share when they are getting a benefit or value for sharing it,” said Stiles. He also pointed out that customers expect their data to be secure, that they want control over what happens with it and that they expect transparency from any company using it.
During the third panel of the day, featuring Dave Karafa of FirstEnergy and Sasha Weintraub of Duke Energy, the discussion continued to cover the views of Ohio’s utilities and alluded to the importance of customer data and how utilities might put it to use.
Weintraub explored the idea of a customer buying an electric vehicle (EV) and returning home to charge it, only to later have the utility take note of this and offer EV specific services to that customer.
“Customers expect choice, convenience and control,” stated Weintraub. “They are no longer satisfied with once a month, one-way communications.”
In fact, Weintraub explained that a specific pilot program that Duke Energy had run, in which he was able to monitor his homes electric usage on his smartphone, had completely changed his views on what utilities could offer.
“It makes you aware and it changes your behavior when you see this usage, and that’s what customers expect.”
Karafa largely agreed, stating “our customers expectations are changing, so we need to adapt to meet those changes.”
According to Karafa, FirstEnergy envisioned a completely different grid than the one we have today. He alluded to turning the one-way electric grid into a two-way platform that can provide better opportunities for all customers and stakeholders.
However, Karafa cautioned that this is not something that can happen overnight, as he stated “there is a lot of work ahead.”
In the final panel of the day, Michael A. Beirne of American Municipal Power, Mike Kurtz of Ohio Energy Group, Doug Miller of Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, Inc. and Chris Healey of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel provided the PUCO with some advice on moving forward, and cautioned not to jump into grid modernization without careful analysis of the benefits.
“All the benefits that we have talked about for the past three days do come with a cost,” stated Healey. He asked the PUCO to keep in mind just how much each aspect of grid modernization would benefit customers.
Healey went on to provide the recommendation that “initiatives should provide as many benefits as possible to as many customers as possible at the least cost.
“On day one, Mr. Di Martini started with the paradigm of walk, jog, run, and I think that is a useful analogy,” state Healey. “But there is a fourth option. We do occasionally need to take a breath, look around and see where we are.”
This idea was not lost on Chairman Haque, who stated “we all need to do a better job of asking what is best for Ohio. With PowerForward, that is honestly what we are trying to do.”
The PUCO would like to thank everyone who presented at or attended phase one of PowerForward, and would encourage you to follow us on social media for future updates on phase two. You can also find webcast recordings and updates on the PowerForward page at www.PUCO.ohio.gov.