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What is a utility, exactly? What does it do? The simple answer, of course, is that it sells electricity or natural gas or both. But that’s changing as utilities offer more and more value-added services for customers.

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They’re doing so because their customers want to capture energy resilience and sustainability. They want to lower energy costs. And they’re beginning to look to utilities for climate-friendly vehicle fuel.

Microgrids offer one way to meet these customer desires so, not surprisingly, more utilities are adding microgrids to their portfolio of value-added services, along with electric vehicle charging, battery storage, virtual power plants, distributed energy resources, smart electric panels, home and building electrification, time-of-use rates, smart meters, direct load control, demand response, energy efficiency measures and more.

As a result, “the stodgy” utility is quickly becoming a thing of the past, said Joe Woomer, vice president of grid and technical solutions for Dominion Energy, a Virginia-based investor-owned utility that operates in 13 states.

“I’ve worked here for 35 years. The pace of change today is more exciting than anything I’ve seen in my career,” he said in an interview with Microgrid Knowledge.

We wanted to learn more about these transformations so, during the first quarter of this year, we interviewed a range of utilities of various sizes and types about the value-added services they now offer — and what they’ve got on the drawing board.

How do they choose and institute these programs? Do they stem from climate strategy or integrated resource plans? Are they tackling them solo or turning to contractors, and, if so, what are they looking for in partners? 

What stumbling blocks do they face in bringing the services to customers? Are they primarily regulatory, financial or technical? And how do these programs change the utility-customer relationships?

Mismanaged expectations are one problem several utilities noted. The customer hears about the possibility of a cool new gadget and assumes it’s as easy to buy and activate as an iPhone.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding, people think, ‘Hey, just give me a battery.’ Well, there is cost, maintenance, setbacks … So a lot of our time goes into education,” said Woomer.

Take the Microgrid Knowledge Utility Survey and receive the results. 

Over the next few months, we intend to roll out our findings in a report and a series of articles profiling the utilities that we interviewed. But before we do that, we’d like to capture additional information and seek help from Microgrid Knowledge readers. We are launching a survey, which we ask you to take to increase our understanding of utility activity. Please feel free to pass the link along to others who may offer additional insight, especially those working for or with utilities.

Free Resource from Microgrid Knowledge Library

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Linking Clean Energy and Clean Mobility via Resilient Microgrids
Resilient microgrids and energy as a service (EaaS) business models can help to support grid assets by linking renewables, EVs, and advanced software systems to provide real time optimization of diverse energy sources. A new white paper from Schneider Electric explores the link between clean energy and clean mobility, and the role resilient microgrids can play.
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We will offer you a copy of the results if you take the survey. (Note: The results will not show individual responses and we will never sell or rent your name without your permission.)

Thanks for your help! And please watch for our article series on utility transformation, value-added services and microgrids.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

Comments

  1. “As a result, “the stodgy” utility is quickly becoming a thing of the past, said Joe Woomer, vice president of grid and technical solutions for Dominion Energy, a Virginia-based investor-owned utility that operates in 13 states.”

    The scope of this change seems to run the gambit of IOU utilities and all the way to investment firms. For instance, Berkshire Hathaway bought Dominion a few years back and the first move was to abandon the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, what one would call an attitude adjustment for both Dominion and Duke Energy. Now the unknown, will the 700 mile right of way of the old Atlantic Coast Pipeline remain intact to use for something like buried UHVDC transmission lines to capture and dispatch east coast wind turbines that are going to be built over the next several years?

    “Mismanaged expectations are one problem several utilities noted. The customer hears about the possibility of a cool new gadget and assumes it’s as easy to buy and activate as an iPhone.”

    Utilities have been enjoying the “regulated monopoly” for a little over 100 years now. The retail electricity customer knows they have microgrid technology available to themselves, with or without the utility’s blessing. “Mismanaged expectations” of customers sounds a whole lot like arrogance on the utility’s part. According to Berkshire Hathaway’s, Warren Buffett, the A, B, Cs of business failure is arrogance from the board of directors to the CEO of the utility, bureaucracy keeping well-formed plans from being implemented in a timely manner, complacency, we’re not going to be the first to try that, wait and see what someone else does.