Energy Efficiency

Keeping up with new energy technologies

Sue Kelly, president and CEO of the American Public Power Association, recently kicked off the 36th Annual Utility Energy Forum with a keynote presentation that engaged the audience in thinking about how utilities will meet increased customer expectations in a time of transformation. Her presentation fit perfectly with the theme of the conference, "The Transformed Utility: Connecting for Success", and resonated with the audience.

Our industry is entering a time of great change driven by evolving customer preferences, new technologies, increasing regulation, and utility workforce issues, Kelly emphasized. Those of us in the industry know these changes are coming, or are here already. However, we're not entirely sure how to deal with the changes yet and need to step up to the plate.

Kelly pointed out that even small communities are interested in new technologies and green energy, as evidenced by the dramatic increase in solar installations nationwide and the popularity of community solar programs. She noted that energy storage and other technologies are not yet commercially viable, but they are coming and utilities need to be prepared. We need to consider what our new business model will look like and what value we will provide to our customers as more products and services are offered by third parties. We may also want to offer some of these new products and services to our customers, either on our own or through partnerships. She talked about APPA's Public Power Forward strategic initiative to provide tools and resources to member utilities to help them navigate the future.

A common theme running through many of the presentations at the Utility Energy Forum was that utilities should strive to be the "trusted energy advisors" for customers. This is a role of value that utilities can offer customers who are looking to adopt new technologies and are bombarded with offers and promises from third parties. Public power utilities have strong ties to the communities we serve, and we are uniquely positioned to be seen as a trustworthy resource for accurate information about energy technologies. To step into the trusted energy advisor role, we must also become more knowledgeable about new technologies.

APPA's Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments program is one way member utilities can learn about new technologies and talk with others who have implemented them. Grants up to $125,000 are available to DEED member utilities to work on innovative projects, and there are opportunities to demonstrate and share what is learned with other DEED members through webinars, newsletters, and presentations.

The DEED program not only provides grants for utility projects, but also funds student research projects, provides educational scholarships to undergraduate students considering a career in the energy industry, and funds student internships at utilities. These internships allow utilities to carry out innovative projects while exposing students to a possible career in public power and providing valuable mentorships and work experience. One great example of this is a DEED-funded electrical engineering internship at Lewis County Public Utility District, where the student was hired into a full-time position at the utility upon graduation. This internship was highlighted at last year's Utility Energy Forum as a part of a panel on workforce development. As Sue Kelly mentioned in her keynote presentation this year, workforce issues are a challenge for our industry, and we are facing a shortage of employees in key areas. We need to expose students to the possibilities of a career in public power, and a DEED internship is one great way to make this happen.

DEED accepts new grant and scholarship applications in two cycles every year. The next round of grant applications is due August 15 and scholarship applications by October 15. I encourage you to find out more and apply now. If you're not already a DEED member, you can join now. Visit www.PublicPower.org/DEED for details.