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PERSPECTIVES


Energy market disruption: Closer than you think

Maikel van Verseveld on the trend of community energy initiatives, and why it "takes a village" to succeed.

Maikel van Verseveld

Maikel van Verseveld
CEO, OMNETRIC Group

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What’s new at OMNETRIC Group?

April 2017 marks our third anniversary for OMNETRIC Group—a kind of coming of age. Over the past three years, working with utilities alongside Accenture teams, there is no debate that a transformation to a smarter grid is needed. Utilities around the world are modernizing their infrastructure for greater reliability, efficiency and sustainability gains.

What do you think a smarter grid looks like?

Utilities continue to invest in smart metering. In fact, many are already revisiting their initial rollouts to determine how they can achieve greater value from deployed systems.

We also see grid companies looking ahead toward platforms that can accommodate the increasing penetration of renewables. There is also a growing appreciation for data-driven insights generated by a more intelligent network.

What is one major trend you see emerging?

In addition to transformation, the trend that I believe merits tracking closely is democratization; in other words, initiatives that aim to involve you and me in the generation and distribution of energy.

We see increasingly more community programs, where a coalition of stakeholders—consumer groups, businesses, local governments—come together with a joint agenda and action plan for an energy system.

Haven’t we been here before with smart cities?

In some respects, yes. We made progress, but ultimately many of the smart city programs stalled. The reasons were diverse. Above all, the technologies to underpin such initiatives were nascent and quite simply too expensive for broad-based adoption. In addition, the schemes were largely driven top-down and perhaps overshot citizens’ requirements at that time.

What has changed?

Several factors are at play. Undeniably, distributed energy resources have matured and proliferated, and the significant fall in the price of solar PV makes it an obvious choice for consumers—at least in sunny climates.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), the community-scale solar market for municipal and cooperative utilities could exceed 10 GW through 2020. Likewise, storage capacity continues to grow, and while the cost of storage remains relatively high for now, other options are emerging, such as reconditioned car batteries for household use, or virtual energy storage.

What are some technology considerations for communities?

Information is a critical success factor for community energy initiatives. First, one of the major goals for communities is to better understand their local energy system, from generation through to consumption.

Armed with this information, communities also seek to evaluate the economic value created and distributed within the system. This increases transparency as a basis for discussion between different stakeholders, including the community constituents.

Also, while communities are generally small, relatively speaking, in terms of demand requirement/supply capacity, they often take a broad perspective on all aspects of energy when they determine their goals. They aspire to a more holistic, integrated view that brings together multiple resources, such as electricity, gas and water, plus heat and electric vehicles for the benefit of the citizen and community at large.

What is the impact of the community energy trend on utilities?

While disrupting the traditional distribution model, there is a role for utilities to play. Most communities aspire primarily to enable their citizens to benefit from cheaper, greener energy, and most are looking for help to achieve those goals. Utilities would do well to consider how they can use their expertise and infrastructure, as well as their experience with municipalities and cities, to offer new solutions and services to communities.

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