Monday, June 22, 2015

CEOs Grapple with an Elephant in the Room -- the Future of Electricity

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla. (Photograph Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu — AP) Click to Enlarge.
When Tesla CEO Elon Musk entered a New Orleans ballroom full of utility CEOs earlier this month, he did so as an odd evangelist for expanding the power grid.

The Silicon Valley electric car entrepreneur sought to reassure America's powerful investor-owned utilities that the story of their industry doesn't end with flat or declining electricity demand.  It doesn't end with rooftop solar or energy storage.

With summer heat rising off the Louisiana bayou, Musk was there to sell an electric dreamscape.  In his rocket to the future, the realignment of the utility business around efficiency, natural gas and zero-carbon technology like electric cars and solar panels is profitable.  Utility profits would rise with power demand for Tesla's latest model.  Rooftop solar panels would pull some suburban homes off the electric grid, but industrial-scale battery packs would help manage a broad, interconnected array of centralized and distributed sources of energy.

"Where the future is going for utilities is actually quite positive," Musk said.

In a world aiming to reduce the effects of climate change, cars stop burning oil and homes turn to electric heating.

"If ultimately all of that has to go to electric," he said, "that means the tripling of energy consumption by electric."

These days, one elephant in the room at any utility industry gathering is the broadest question you can think of:  "What does the future of electricity look like?"  The question is mind-bending and discouraging, given the complexity of regional differences in the United States around power generation and distribution, not to mention regulation.  But in an industry where investors expect smart long-term planning around infrastructure projects, the answer to this basic question is getting harder to pin down.  It's rooted in loose-fitting projections around economic growth, carbon regulations and technology.

Read more at CEOs Grapple with an Elephant in the Room -- the Future of Electricity

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