Share good ideas and conversation.   Login, Join Us, or Take a Tour!
comment by WanderingEng

With the caveats of 1) I work for an electric utility and 2) my opinions here and elsewhere on hubski are mine and may not reflect those of my employer:

Change. The new paradigm, same as the old paradigm.

Change is nothing new for utilities. In the '90s it was de-regulation and open access. No longer could utilities deny access to independent generators to connect to their systems. If an IPP (independent power producer) had a lower priced product, state commissions would order regulated utilities to buy their power.

I have some criticisms of the article, mostly in tone, but there is one major truth here:

    In all that bedlam, it’s easy to lose sight of an equally important (if less sexy) trend: Demand for electricity is stagnant.

3% annual growth used to be the norm. Today, everything I hear across the board is less than 1%. Some local areas might see more, some will see less or even negative growth (likely due to large industrial customers shutting down). But it averages out to positive but less than 1%.

    Think for a moment about why a big utility like TVA (serving 9 million customers in seven states, with more than $11 billion in revenue) sets out to plan 20 years ahead. It is investing in extremely large and capital-intensive infrastructure like power plants and transmission lines, which cost billions of dollars and last for decades. These are not decisions to make lightly; the utility wants to be sure that they will still be needed, and will still pay off, for many years to come.

I think this paragraph misses something very important: failing to address a future need might mean that future need goes unmet. A little more bluntly, that might mean grandma's air conditioner in Nashville doesn't run when it's hot because there's no generation or no power lines to supply her and all her neighbors from what generation is available. Big power lines easily take ten years to build from inception to carrying power. Utilities have to be conservative because the alternative can have significant impacts to health, wellbeing, and the economy.

As I scroll through the article again, I want to note my general agreement. This:

    it is good that US power demand has decoupled from GDP growth. As long as we’re getting the energy services we need, we want overall demand to decline. It saves money, reduces pollution, and avoids the need for expensive infrastructure.

is totally right.

The tone stuff I don't agree with is this:

    Utilities have been frantically adjusting to this new normal.

and this:

    utilities find themselves constantly surprised, caught flat-footed again and again by a trend they desperately want to believe is temporary

How does the author reconcile calling utilities frantic or surprised with TVA's constantly changing conclusions and their decision to start their integrated resource plan early? Guessing the future of energy is like trying to guess the future of the stock market. He might as well call stock traders surprised and frantic about the unprecedented market growth. He could be just as smug, and his conclusion would be just as pointless.




bhrgunatha  ·  171 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Do you think it's likely that the flat demand trend will continue or even decline?

That graph also shows a (shorter) flat demand area in the late 70s early 80s.

DJWalnut  ·  170 days ago  ·  link  ·  

no. with the rise of electric cars, energy usage will shift from electricity and oil to all electricity. total energy use per capita won't grow too much, but demand for current will rise. also, stuff like heating oil or gas appliances may be replaced with electric too.

WanderingEng  ·  170 days ago  ·  link  ·  

My expectation is for it to mostly stay flat and not decline. Things like rooftop solar will erode some demand, but population growth and electric vehicles will add some back.

I think the more urgent change will be eroding demand for large generating stations like coal and nuclear, and to some extent gas, as their energy is replaced with wind and solar. Each generating technology has different benefits and impacts, so managing these changes will take deliberate effort. And not everyone will be happy with how it has to be managed.