EVs + Smart Grid. People Power: Rethinking Electricity


People Power: Rethinking Electricity

Dian Grueneich, Former Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission
Mark Duvall, Director of Electric Transportation and Energy Storage, Electric Power Research Institute
Ted Howes, Partner, IDEO
Greg Dalton, Founder of Climate One, Moderator

The utility-consumer relationship is primed for a fundamental overhaul. Armed with information, formerly passive consumers will take charge of their energy future, say a panel of experts convened by Climate One. “A lot of the more forward-thinking utilities are starting to think about the ratepayer as a customer. That for them is a big innovation,” says Ted Howes, formerly a Partner at the design and innovation firm IDEO. Utilities are struggling, he says, to prepare for the complexity that comes with the new two-way relationship. “Oftentimes, utilities are taking it from a fundamentally technology-centered standpoint, not a human-centered standpoint,” he says. Mark Duvall, Director of Electric Transportation and Energy Storage Electric Power Research Institute, agrees that the customer relationship must change, but emphasizes the importance of the utility and the grid in a decentralized energy future in which many more consumers generate their own power. “If you decide that you’re going to build a zero-net energy home, put a lot of solar energy on the home, that doesn’t mean you don’t need the electric grid. In fact, you could say you need it more,” he says. Dian Grueneich, formerly a Commissioner with the California Public Utilities Commission, adds that the electrical utility sector will innovate much faster if nimble green tech start-ups are able to scale new technologies. “There hasn’t been much innovation or technology change in 100 years. That tells you there is a business opportunity.” What we haven’t seen, she adds, is for these technology innovators to master the arcane world of publicly-regulated utilities serving millions of customers. “You may have the best product in the world, but a state commission can kill your business plan overnight.”

This program was recorded in front of a live audience at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on January 13., 2011.