Electric Grid:

Edison Foundation's Wood discusses innovative projects transforming power sector

How are utilities working to transform the electric power sector through innovation? During today's OnPoint, Lisa Wood, executive director of IEE and vice president of the Edison Foundation, discusses promising utility-technology partnerships that are helping to meet challenges facing the industry. She also talks about the role distributed generation is playing in utility business models.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Lisa Wood, executive director of IEE and vice president of the Edison Foundation. Lisa, thank you so much for coming back on the show.

Lisa Wood: It's great to be here, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Lisa, IEE has just released a new book, "Innovations Across the Grid," that focuses on innovative projects that are transforming the electric power sector. It's really a very interesting time right now for utilities as they find a way to deal with regulations and new consumer demands. How are you hoping to influence the discussion on the future of the electric power sector with this book?

Lisa Wood: Well, what we're hoping to do is really just spread the word across the country in terms of what's going on in the power sector right now to engage consumers and to use technologies to really transform the power grid all across the power grid, really from the consumer all the way to the transmission system.

Monica Trauzzi: So you're telling the story, basically, of different companies and what they're doing through this book. What would you identify as the most promising industry trend that you're seeing on the technological side of things?

Lisa Wood: Well, I think the most promising thing is really just the use of technology and more investment in technology than we've seen in decades in this industry, so the utilities are teamed with technology companies to really make major changes to how we use electricity, how we manage electricity, how we deliver electricity.

Monica Trauzzi: So we always talk about, on this show, identifying winners and losers. How are utilizes doing that? How are they deciding what to invest their dollars in?

Lisa Wood: That's a really good question. Well, I don't work at a utility in terms of making investments, but I think in terms of making investments in technology, one, it has to, these technologies, they have to work. I mean, we've been doing this now for, I'd say, eight or nine years, in terms of smart grid technologies, so we've come a long way. There's been a lot of, a long learning process, but part of the reason to put this book out there is to really share information across the industry, who's doing what, what's been successful, what's working, which technology companies are doing what with which utility companies. And I mean, it's a huge reason that we put out the book.

Monica Trauzzi: And how does the federal government fit into all of this? Do they play a positive role?

Lisa Wood: Yeah, absolutely. I think, as you know, ARPA-E is funding a lot of innovation, a lot of innovative projects at the very, very early R&D stages and, as those projects get underway and become a proven technology, then they can be adopted by the industry, and we actually have highlighted a couple of projects in the book that ARPA-E has funded.

Monica Trauzzi: Are there companies that continue to see a wait, to take a wait-and-see approach on the technology?

Lisa Wood: We've got, I think, the gamut. I think the industry runs the gamut, and a lot of that depends on what investments were made earlier. So we have some companies out at the edge in terms of making investments, and we have some companies that are waiting for various reasons. It could be the regulatory climate, it could be that they just made some major investments and they're going to wait to do any more significant cap ex.

Monica Trauzzi: Distributor generation has caused some concerns within the industry. Is this a technology trend that utilities must find a way to embrace, and how do you see it fitting into their business models?

Lisa Wood: I think, distributor generation is a huge trend. We're seeing a lot of excitement about it, and we're seeing it developing very quickly. Utilities are embracing distributor generation, and basically making it part of the grid and integrating it into the grid, and that just, I mean, that requires some technical expertise, it requires some regulatory changes, but we're seeing that happening at different rates in different states, but I'd say the growth, even though it's quite small right now, the growth is exponential, so we expect to see a lot more.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think EPA's New Source Performance Standards for power plants help drive some of the innovation that we're seeing right now?

Lisa Wood: In distributor generation, are you talking about?

Monica Trauzzi: Not just distributor generation, but across the board in utilities as they push to develop more technologies.

Lisa Wood: Well, I think that any sort of regulation or the regulatory environment is going to drive where the utilities go. I mean, it is a regulated industry.

Monica Trauzzi: OK. We'll end it right there. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Nice to see you again.

Lisa Wood: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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