We are on the cusp of true transformation in the electric industry. Technology exists today that can change the way we use energy at work and home. Homeowners are increasingly trying to make their homes “smarter”, electric vehicle sales are rising, and businesses are asking how they can self-generate or buy clean power.
You do not need to look outside my hometown of Columbus, Ohio to see the change coming. AEP Ohio is shifting its focus to cleaner energy and rolling out a fully smart grid; Smart Columbus has received high profile federal funding; The Ohio State University is rethinking how it manages and delivers power to its campus.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) understands that change is coming, and has launched an initiative to get ahead of this wave. PowerForward is the PUCO’s deep dive into “Grid Modernization” and how innovation can serve to enhance your electricity experience. We recognize the desire for more technology with our smart phones and groundbreaking services like Siri, Alexa and 1-hour shipping, but equivalent strides in innovation have not made it to the electric sector yet.
For the last year, the PUCO has been hosting national and state energy experts to help shape this discussion. With a comprehensive grid modernization policy in place, Ohio’s utilities will be able to provide advanced services that can bring far more value and options to customers.
Perhaps, the most well known “smart grid” technologies are digital meters. These meters communicate with customers and utilities in real time and collect data that customers can leverage for their benefit about their energy usage. Now, imagine a business plugged into its energy consumption and knowing exactly how much it costs to run the air conditioner or other machinery during a particular period of the day.
Imagine an integrated smart home experience, with items like the smart thermostat capable of adjusting temperatures based upon living preferences. Imagine a home being able to self-generate power and eventually store it in a battery. Imagine owning an electric vehicle charging station that can not only charge an electric vehicle, but also serve as a distributed energy resource that can balance voltage levels on the local grid.
In actuality, we do not have to imagine these technologies because they exist today. Through PowerForward, we hope to take a step toward making these technologies available throughout Ohio and create a regulatory roadmap for innovation a reality for customers.
The PUCO has dedicated the last year to reviewing the electric distribution grid and how it will change to meet consumers’ evolving demands.
Through this public forum, we have heard from over 120 energy and technology experts from across the country. Consumer groups demonstrated the business case to pursue grid modernization; technology experts focused on the cutting-edge engineering that can make a future grid possible; and policy and economic experts examined ways regulators can provide incentives through changes in utility rate designs.
The second half of 2018 will see the PUCO advance the grid modernization conversation through robust policy guidance. My objective is to have a policy document pushed out by the end of the year that will provide Ohio with a roadmap towards a future grid. That roadmap, of course, will have some bumpers to guide our utilities and service providers; yet at the same time will need to be flexible.
Flexibility is key because emerging technologies of today may or may not be relevant in five years. When the innovation bar is as low as today’s current grid, policymakers need to be ready for change. I do not know exactly what the future holds or what the grid will look like in 20 years, but I know Ohio will be ready