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Energy Symposium Focuses on the Rise of New Innovation and the Changes to the Grid By Janet Miranda


How will the energy sector adapt to new challenges? How will the electric grid be adapted as it changes from a piece of equipment to a service?

The opening discussion of the 2018-19 Energy Symposium Series, “Future of the Electric Grid: Renewed or Gridlocked?” focused on the changing landscape of the energy market, with the growth of renewable energy as well as the impact of technological innovations.

The discussion, moderated by Matt Rogers, senior partner at McKinsey & Company, included a panel of experts: John Berger, founder and CEO of Sunnova Energy Corporation, a residential solar and service provider; Jesse Grossman, co-founder and CEO of Soltage, a New Jersey-based developer and operator of solar energy systems; and Kenny Mercado, senior vice president of electric operations at CenterPoint Energy.

Rogers opened the discussion by addressing the restructuring of the American power market in relation to the grid and a need for new oversight capabilities, explaining the challenge of changing the grid’s physical infrastructure to meet energy concerns.

Rogers said the challenge of operating the grid will increase exponentially.

The concerns about the stability of the grid stem from the emerging transition from centralized coal-fired plants to cheaper natural gas-fired plants, the growing market for wind and solar-generated electricity, and the grid’s reliability during extreme weather.

The energy sector is changing along with the needs of the consumers, said Rogers. The expansion of renewables raises new challenges for a new generation of engineers and financial professionals and will require innovative solutions, he said.

Grossman discussed positive trends for a growing solar market, including the advances in technology that have caused the cost of the equipment to decline. He said there is plenty of room for growth, as solar power now accounts for only three percent of electricity generation in the United States.

Renewables, especially wind, have made more headway in Texas.

“In Texas today, nearly 25 percent of the use of electricity is renewables. There are certain times in the year where more than 50 percent of the supply of electricity is coming from wind and solar, and it’s going to continue to grow. That doesn’t slow down over time,” Mercado said.

He said the growth of renewable energy presents challenges in meeting high consumer expectations for reliability and quality. He believes the increasing risks of severe weather will require a greater emphasis on raising and protecting infrastructure.

Berger closed the discussion by touching on technological progress as a main factor for the growth of renewable energy. The capacity for energy storage has outpaced expectations, as well, he said, adding that new systems and a deregulated market will be required to complete a fundamental shift.

“What we need to have is a level playing field in the industry so that no monopoly can come in. It should be up to the customer to choose what they want,” Berger said. “There’s a lot of new technology, and we need to change the regulatory landscape to enable consumers to come in and choose what they want.”