It’s Time to Take Risks and Embrace our Energy Future

It’s Time to Take Risks and Embrace our Energy Future

September 20, 2016
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Article first appeared Energy Manager Today

By Bert Valdman

Bert Valdman

We are now at a critical point in our energy system. It’s time to reboot the can-do culture that once animated our energy sector, and should always be at its core. It is time for us to find a better way, as Thomas Edison once challenged his team to do.

I see three converging paths forward, and we need to make progress on all of them. One, established industry players must shake themselves out of their attachment to the status quo—possibly the most challenging and dangerous obstacle an established company must confront, particularly in the electric sector. Two, large commercial and industrial customers, emerging energy companies, and incumbents must build coalitions to collaborate on commercializing new technologies. And three, we must immediately make energy-hogging commercial buildings more efficient to reduce resource consumption.

Taking risks to power the future

Change happens slowly among long-standing institutions that manage long-term assets. I learned that firsthand in my management roles with two West Coast electric utilities. Operating an electric system requires achieving the right balance between multiple parties motivated by disparate interests. Finding that balance is especially challenging when you define success as operating a safe, reliable, and affordable system.

Coalitions can drive faster innovation

One way to lead is for utilities to forge coalitions with emerging energy companies and large industrial corporations. These coalitions would draw on the strengths of all types of companies to scale new solutions more quickly, deploy technology more efficiently, and drive innovation faster. Our communities benefit when established companies combine their scale, stability, and patience with the agitation, change, and urgency of emerging companies. Energy start-ups need a faster route to commercialization. Utilities need an inside line on new approaches and easier ways to test them. And global corporations need integrated solutions backed by trusted partners.

Addressing the energy hog in the middle of the room

The first issue these coalitions should tackle is energy use in commercial buildings. Commercial buildings use about 20 percent of the total electricity consumed in the United States. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems alone account for nearly half of a typical building’s electricity use.

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