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Let's Make it Easier: New Energy Investments

5 Investments Utilities Can Make to Remain Happily Married to Ratepayers

In a 100-home subdivision, a homeowners’ association recently increased its annual dues by $1,560 per single-family residence, a 130-percent spike over the year before.

Not a single homeowner objected.

In fact, the HOA’s new deal lined up dozens of additional buyers for five houses that went up for sale in the community. Each sold in a day, and for an average of $10,000 over already bullish listing prices.

Ask any of the subdivision’s residents, and they’ll tell you it’s all worth the cost. That’s because, if the new deal works to plan, none of them will have to pay another electricity bill – ever.

What Makes an Increase in Dues So Attractive

Five years ago, the community’s residents faced two issues: 1) consistent annual rate hikes from their electric utility; and 2) a growing interest among many neighbors to cut their carbon footprints. About 30 homeowners supplemented energy needs with rooftop solar photovoltaic panels, and the majority of households had at least one electric vehicle.

Residents had knowledge in, and access to, sustainable technologies to generate and use their own electricity. They also had neighbors who were using and developing expertise in residential battery energy storage, mostly for their cars.

Access to New Energy Technologies Frees Consumers to Look Elsewhere

It wasn’t long before an HOA-commissioned group—homeowners themselves—developed a plan to use distributed energy resources that would free the community from the grid.

The subdivision, along with a nearby bank and car-parts manufacturer, went all in on an investment in a microgrid: solar power, a centralized battery energy storage facility and four natural gas-fired microturbines that provided backup power.

The bank financed the project, the manufacturer provided land for shared resources, and five years after it was envisioned, the microgrid became reality. Today, the new energy investment worked as expected and has eliminated 102 of the electric utility’s customers.

Now for a dose of reality: to our knowledge, such a scenario doesn’t exist. Yet.

But it’s certainly plausible, and in some ways, the approach is already under way. For instance, the Brooklyn Microgrid project, in which hundreds of New Yorkers are exploring a kind of communal grid—powered by renewable energy, led by rooftop solar—that can help lower the community’s carbon footprint.

There are Ways to Keep Customers in Love with Your Energy Products and Services

For those that want to keep their ratepayer relationships intact, it’s time for utilities to offer their customers not only what they need now, but what they will certainly be clamoring for in the future: cheaper, cleaner energy. If not, many consumers and businesses will find ways to make investments of their own and eventually cut ties with current suppliers.

To continue thriving in the new energy economy, wise utilities may consider capital allocation strategies that include these moves:

  1. Sharing knowledge, openly, with their customers on how to generate their own power, store it, manage it efficiently, and profit from excess production.
  2. Developing distributed energy products, such as microgrids, and related digital asset monitoring services to sell directly to businesses and communities.
  3. Building electric-vehicle charging stations and planning for the capacity to handle future demand using renewable power-generation sources.
  4. Upgrading physical and technological infrastructure—fully automated and scalable—to enable the success of new entrants into the distributed energy marketplace.
  5. Investing in more renewable generation and storage that shows a commitment to sustainability and addresses intermittency issues of renewables.

Then, utilities have the opportunity to provide energy management, digital analytics and other services that require operators who have advanced knowledge. For example, commercial and industrial players will need experts in smart, or bidirectional, inverters to send and receive energy, as well as specialists in asset management technologies that ensure the long life and proper maintenance of infrastructure.

Utilities and their customers have a good thing going. Sustainable technologies will bring them closer together.