Rapid energy transformation is the new norm. From in front of the meter to behind the meter and operations centers, no part of our energy system is unchanged. Grid assets have evolved from traditional grid infrastructure and early demand response solutions ten years ago to complex, agile, and both small-scale and large-scale distributed energy systems today.
This transition is happening rapidly, with meaningful impacts on both utilities and customers alike. So how do we navigate through the rocky terrain? As we are experiencing with COVID-19, transformation can take the form of reactivity and struggle. Difficult, unforeseen challenges become a catalyst for growth. Or alternatively, we can anticipate where our needs are going to be, rather than where we are today, and make plans and implement solutions with that future in mind.
A Forward-Solving Mindset
A forward-looking, forward-solving mindset is critical to strategically morph our energy paradigm. Prior to recently joining TRC, I had a front-row seat to the challenges and opportunities of energy transformation at Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO). The business-as-usual model is no longer working for utilities and I participated in HECO’s efforts to evolve their approach, leading a team of ‘intrapreneurs’ who embraced the challenge of rethinking our systems and implementing new technology and business innovations.
Just as the grid is becoming more flexible, so too must our business and operations frameworks embody agility and resilience. Utilities and energy providers are embracing distributed energy as an orchestration partner in these complex systems. They are developing interesting solutions for customer asset integration, non-wires alternatives, new market creation, and long-term operational strategies and business models.
I am pleased to join TRC because its integrated advanced energy and digital services are critical to helping energy providers bring their transformation visions to life; and with the continued COVID-19 as well as a multitude of grid and decarbonization needs, many energy providers are accelerating their transformation goals to realize reliable, flexible, and clean power today.
Adapting for New Opportunity
Innovation is key to our transformation. As an industry, we need opportunities to collaborate on new solutions—and organizations like the Peak Load Management Alliance (PLMA) can be instrumental. (Full disclosure, I am Vice Chair of the Board). This year, COVID-19 created some unexpected challenges around our bi-annual in-person conference and other creative working sessions.
PLMA conferences spur important learning and connection across the industry—including an increasing emphasis on distributed energy resource (DER) innovation and implementation. An important outlet for this work is one of PLMA’s member Interest Groups: the DER Integration Interest Group. This group meets to brainstorm solutions to DER adoption challenges through working sessions, sharing key takeaways and envisioning the future. Our goal is always to empower collective industry DER progress.
While PLMA typically holds two in-person conferences annually, the upcoming conference which was slated for April 20 – 22 in Scottdale, AZ has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 health situation. But rather than suspend our progress, PLMA leadership opted to move the spring conference and associated interest group meetings online, and I am pleased to say, offer it for free to all registered attendees.
We also allowed our members to engage with both the conference and interest group sessions more flexibly and extended the content and engagements over a longer timeframe—with the DER Integration and other interest group engagements scheduled for mid-May. Despite the unfortunate precipitating health circumstances, moving PLMA online actually opens up new opportunities for better integration and continued engagement across the industry. Ultimately, we hope this move will further activate the industry network of DER experts working on innovations that benefit us all while helping PLMA diversify the ways in which we engage our members and deliver value as an organization.
It remains to be seen what formats PLMA will use in the future, but even simple adaptations to old approaches can offer surprising potential. For me, this is a good reminder of how a forward-solving mindset paves the way to success in a transforming world. PLMA is excited to see where this year’s DER innovation and adoption discussions take us and look forward to sharing important takeaways from the interest group as well as other DER-related content delivered through conferences, web dialogues and more. Stay tuned for more insight into DER challenges and solutions we uncover over the coming year. In a strange coincidence, like the grid itself, it may be that PLMA is becoming more distributed out of necessity, if not by design.