Catherine Hamilton, Peter Fox Penner, Dr Peter Fox discussed on The Energy Gang
The electric grid is a central pillar of zero carbon economy but in an era of unrelenting extremes. It's also one of the most fragile this week. What is power after carbon. Look like plus how is the swell of extreme weather accelerating and complicating the ship. Catherine hamilton is here. She's my co-host she's the thirty eight nor solutions and it looks like she is back in. Virginia that's right. It's beautiful and i'm super excited about this episode. Why are you so excited. Because peter fox penner is our guest and peter and i have gone through some of the same things at the same time. And i'm so i'm really interested to hear his perspective. That is right. Dr peter fox. Penner is the founder of the boston university institute of sustainable energy. he's a partner and chief strategy officer at the vc firm energy impact partners and he is the author of multiple books on the future of the electric grid. One of which we're going to talking about today and Dr fox penner is one of the go-to experts on the future of the grid. So welcome hi. Peter hi stephen hi kathryn. Thanks for having me on the show. It's really an honor to be here. So we're talking about your newest book which is called power after carbon building. Clean resilient grid. And i wanna talk about that book through the lens of your previous book. I think it's helpful to bridge the different decades that we're talking about here because it's remarkable. How different this decade is from the last when you wrote your book called smart power so that book looked at the new pressures that utilities facing around climate policy and emerging distributed energy and digitisation and those were all important forces but they are all still relatively new and utilities were in kind of an experimental phase with deploying them So let's go back to the smart power era first before we talk about Power after carbon two thousand ten. When this book was published feels like a much different time for utilities. We hadn't experienced this wave of bankruptcies restructurings that we saw in europe Revenue erosion from distribute resources was largely theoretical here in the us. Renewables were still pretty expensive. Cole was king. We weren't constantly dealing with simultaneous extreme weather events caused by climate change. Like we are now. So what was your thesis back then. For how change would hit the electric sector well. I was worried about the narrative. That utilities were dinosaurs. That were That needed to go away. If you remember the twenty tense. Where i would say. The tail end of the era in which Deregulation in the introduction of markets was thought to be an end all solution to all our energy problems and at the same time. I saw that for me utilities. Were going to remain very very essential players at the core of the transformation to a clean energy and a smarter energy ecosystem So i was really out of sync with the the thinking at the time and it was also an era of stagnant to negative sales which actually we are still in but we are now seeing the end of their was. You're absolutely right stephen. Climate change wasn't nearly as dominant a consideration as it is now. Resilience was a little bit of an issue but not nearly as big as it is now. And the the smart grin distributed energy as you mentioned. Stephen were seen to be the real threats that were going to take out utilities and create kind of a deregulated decentralized distributed kind of energy system. Yeah i was thinking through. What did we actually fund in that stimulus bill for smart grid and some of the things that we funded were super important like sinker. Phasers on the grid that would enable outages on the transmission system to really be spotted much quicker I don't know if you all remember but there was a blackout in two thousand and three that it took an entire year to figure out that a branch in cleveland took down the entire northeast. So that wouldn't happen anymore. We know that because of what we were able to install then there were other things that were sort of installed to make it the system slightly more efficient like volt far optimization and then there were a lot of advanced meters that were installed and this is where. I was disappointed in that. There were lots and lots of advanced meters installed in customer residences and yet customers were still not able to take advantage of what that increased visibility increased data about what they were doing and how they were using energy could that they could really optimize it themselves and engage much more in the grid now. What that means is we do have some equipment out there. And some digitisation that could be used to enable our grid and customers to benefit more We do have a lot more to do. But i think we're in a very different place than we were now on needing resilience and other services that have even more value than they did. Then one of the things that astonishing to me is just how quickly and fiercely. The frequency of extreme weather events has changed and it's caught a lot of people flat-footed many utilities included. What what are the things that change that you didn't necessarily predict yes. I did not foresee the pace at which climate change would intensify serious storms. and all of of what. We might call resilience events. I there were a couple of other things i'll just mention. I really didn't look beyond a ten year window at sales growth and therefore didn't talk at all about electrification and the upturn in sales demand that we're now on the cusp of a need to really intensify as one of the most difficult and important parts of climate policy something. We should probably talk a little bit more about. I did not expect the regulatory community and utilities to understand. All of my business model changes. And i was surprised. Many of them did down. That was something that surprised me. In a good way that there was much more willingness to talk about business model changes than i expected. Now many of them haven't yet occurred. They're in the process of occurring. I think changes very slow in any kind of infrastructure industry and partly. There are good reasons for that but in this case we need to really accelerate it as fast as we can. Another thing i didn't predict is the progress that we made we would make on some electrification technologies electric vehicles. Now the ones i'm driving. They're sitting right here in my driveway. Next to me are so much better and cheaper than i foresaw in two thousand eight when i started writing. It's and that's fantastic. So there are some things that moved faster and better than i foresaw and a couple of things that are lagging including the thing one of the things that catherine mentioned with not the digitisation of the grid which i think is advancing but the application of smart grid and smart pricing to all of our end uses is really moving quite slowly compared to the potential. That's there so peter. I i wanna give you huge props for this book. Which is incredible. You have loads of statistics and charts and literature taxonomy of approaches and solutions. But you also asked really important questions lay out different visions. And i think that's great because it makes us have to think a little bit about this so there are sort of three ways that you thought we could think about the future of the grid. One is much more localized smaller distributed. The second was Really having stole the grid With much many more pro sooners and deregulation and the third is sorted this combination of having both a large grid and a smaller grid Working together and i..