How to Get Better Results From Utility Pilot Projects

Many utility demos don’t produce results. Here are five tips to fix that.

When it comes to trying out new things, many utilities are notoriously slow-moving and risk-averse, and many of their pilot projects can be ineffective as a result. So how do you change an industry that moves slowly but is nonetheless undergoing a major energy and digital transformation?

According to the researchers at Rocky Mountain Institute, there are a variety of strategies — from better utility and stakeholder collaboration to a focus on new technology that can scale — that could help with the problem. RMI recently published a report that digs into a handful of possible solutions that utilities, regulators, tech companies, customers and environmentalists can use to try to get the energy sector to evolve more quickly and effectively.

RMI decided to tackle the topic in a report after working with New York utility Con Edison, which was looking to launch some demonstration projects with new technology, explains RMI’s electricity practice manager, Mike Henchen. “A lot of utility projects are not that effective, and a lot of projects are just pilots, and a lot don’t lead to full-scale deployments,” he said.

RMI collected lessons learned and best practices from Con Edison, as well as Arizona Public Service and Avista Utilities, to put together ideas on how utilities can become more innovative. Here’s what they came up with.

1) Change is coming, so deal with it intelligently: With the introduction of distributed energy technologies — solar panels, batteries, electric car chargers and smart thermostats — the power grid is already transforming. Utilities need to fully embrace and plan for this change, and need to develop road maps and support from leaders for how to navigate these changes.

Henchen said at some utilities “an old guard” exists that is more skeptical of the need for transformation. “Every organization has its skeptics,” said Henchen. A road map helps to get everyone on board.

At the same time, regulators owe utilities clear and consistent messaging around their own strategic priorities for innovation. Successful DER providers also need to understand the varied business models and regulatory environments utilities have around the country in order to offer effective solutions.

Read more (Green Tech Media)