Director of Government Affairs,
Consumers want choices. Electricity consumers are no different. However, since electricity became ubiquitous in American buildings and households over a century ago, consumers have had very few choices about how and from whom they obtain electricity. The primary reason for this lack of choice was that until recently the most cost-effective way to generate, transmit and deliver electricity was through centralized ownership and control of production and delivery infrastructure by regulated utility companies. Technological innovation and smart public policy are finally changing all that and giving electricity consumers choices they’ve never had.
In California today, 147,366 electricity consumers are producing their own electricity from solar panels according to data from the California Public Utilities Commission. Few of these consumers were doing so just six years ago when the state launched the largest solar incentive program in the country, and these pioneers are settling new territory at the distribution edge. Motivated by a desire to save money by managing their own electricity costs and reduce their impact on the climate and environment, these “prosumers” are not only producing their own electricity but in many cases are generating excess electricity for use by their neighbors through a policy known as net energy metering. Like rollover minutes on a wireless plan, net energy metering, which is available in 43 states across the country, provides consumers credit for excess electricity they generate and provide to the grid.
While policies like net energy metering have empowered hundreds of thousands of electricity consumers nationwide to rethink their relationship to electricity, these policies are only scratching the surface in terms of capturing the full value that distribution edge prosumers do and can provide to the electricity grid. Consumer investments in distributed energy resources like solar, which provide power where it is consumed, can reduce the need for planned investments in grid infrastructure by the utility. Many distributed energy resources can also provide ancillary services like voltage regulation and reactive power to help provide power quality on the grid. However, capturing these values requires policies, pricing mechanisms and a degree of coordinated planning not widely in use.
Innovation at the distribution edge is in its infancy. Regulatory policies will determine how it grows. Removing barriers and providing pathways for distribution edge technologies will facilitate a transformation in the electricity sector. Ultimately consumers will get what they want and the unidirectional electricity grid will be a thing of the past – consumers will be not just connected, but interconnected.
Curtis Seymour is Director of Government Affairs for SunEdison where he leads state-level regulatory and legislative efforts for the company on the West Coast. SunEdison develops, finances, owns and operates solar power plants across the United States and the world. Curtis previously worked for Q-Cells in Berlin, Germany and for the California Public Utilities Commission. He is currently serving as the state committee Chair for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) in California.