Power Brokers, Fuel Experts Discuss Drivers Behind Georgia Energy Mix
Thursday, April 27th, 2017
Georgia’s diverse power and clean energy producing companies met recently for the fourth annual “Energy Brunch and Learn” roundtable discussion to determine the driving forces behind the state’s renewable resources.
Attorney Greg Chafee, Partner in charge for the Energy Services Group of the Thompson Hine law firm, welcomed attendees and introduced Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, who served as moderator for the April 11th forum. Chafee described the overall purpose of the session succinctly: “to talk about the Georgia energy mix.”
Echols, an advocate of renewable and clean energy, in particular, solar, coordinated the agenda, but before starting with electric vehicles (EVs), he addressed the over-arching issue present in the room: Westinghouse’s bankruptcy and the effect on the Vogtle nuclear plant. He stated that scenarios range from abandonment of the electric generating facility to a best-case situation of a federal bailout. “We’ll know more in 3 weeks.” Some good news, he noted, is that parent company, Toshiba, has “a $900 million parental guaranty that’s triggered if Westinghouse abandons the project.”
EVs (Electric Vehicles)
According to Ed Triolo, Director of Corporate Strategy and Implementation for Green4U Technologies, a company that provides EV solutions, spoke of an “incredible acceleration going on” in the market, driven by Uber and autonomous cars. “We believe vehicle electrification has hit a critical inflection point,” added Triolo. “The lithium in lithium-ion battery technology is the new gasoline. The respected investment research firm, Bernstein Research, predicts that EVs could amount to 40% of all car sales within 20 years.” The bottom line, according to Triolo, is “momentum is accelerating as the entire weight and resources of the global automotive industry shift strongly behind transportation electrification.”
K.C. Boyce, Senior Product Director of Market Strategies International, introduced a consumer perspective as he delineated the profiles of those current and future buyers of EVs. He quoted statistics about users in the southern U.S., extracted from a national survey, which indicated that the primary motivating factor for electric vehicle owners is to be an early adapter of technology. Nearly three-fourths of buyers are under 44 years of age; 55% are male; 26% have graduate degrees; and around half have annual incomes of over $75,000. About 28% of this group also has solar power in their homes.
These profiles differ from plug-in hybrid buyers, who tend to be somewhat older, mostly female and who prefer electric home heating.
Thor Hinckley, nationally recognized renewable energy expert, addressed other trends in the electrification of transportation. For example, his company, CLEAResult, collaborates with utilities to use first generation electric vehicles to serve low-income populations using a networking car-sharing system.
Hinckley added that CLEAResult’s “goal is to help people use energy differently,” which led him to discuss how the “Internet of Things” can be extended beyond appliances and home devices to cars, since drivers can give voice instructions to their cars. The game-changer, noted Hinckley: autonomous vehicles. He stated that Ford will begin making them by 2021 and that Tesla is also a major promoter of these self-driven cars.
The overall value of EVs for mega-utilities offers several advantages to expand into another arena: transportation. Becoming a thought leader regarding decisions about electric vehicles helps improve customer satisfaction scores. Plus, each new owner of an EV will “increase his load by about 33%, That’s a significant amount,” said Hinckley. “There is no other appliance that I’m aware of that’s going to raise residential consumption by that much.” Promoting EVs is also a plus to a utility’s sustainability footprint.
Richard Makerson, Founding Partner of Blue Fetch LLC, an IT consulting firm, reiterated that cars are part of the “Internet of Things.” The opportunity is how to make a car experience more pleasant and safer by enabling cars to “talk” to each other as well as to the infrastructure. Still, he acknowledged that privacy, data sharing, and hacker issues remain.
From a commercial standpoint, Frank Morris, Vice President Corporate Public Affairs at UPS, cited several statistics regarding his firm’s position on the use of various renewable energy resources to fuel its fleet: 100% electric and electric hybrids; liquefied natural gas (LNG); hydrogen; and compressed natural gas (CNG). Last fall, ahead of schedule, UPS attained its “goal of 1 billion miles being driven on alternative fuels.”
Senator David Shafer, President Pro Tempore of the Georgia State Senate, informed the attendees the state legislature, during its most recent session, passed legislation “that sort of paves the way for autonomous vehicles by clarifying some of the automobile liability laws; by clarifying who is responsible for accidents when a vehicle is being autonomously driven.” Shafer admitted reinstituting the EV tax credit program “maybe that’s something we ought to reconsider as we move forward.”
According to the above study by Market Strategies International, solar power adapters, in general, fall between 18-44 years old, are fairly well educated; they like to be early adapters; and, they have a consideration of the impact on the environment. Interested solar adapters have a slightly lower demographic profile level than early users. They are looking, however, for convenience before purchasing; they like to shop on-line; and they also do have environmental concerns.
Ervan Hancock, Manager, Renewable Generation from Southern Company, was pleased to announce that when it comes to solar power, “Georgia is now on the map” and has moved up from seventh to fifth for utilities in the country. According to the 2016 Integrated Resource Plan, the state has “1,600 incremental renewable megawatts coming on to the grid.” He added that Bloomberg calls it the “biggest they’ve seen” in North America in their five years of study.
“Community solar” allows consumers, who are unable to install panels onto their homes, to buy a piece of a larger solar facility by paying a monthly fixed fee and be able to replicate the same types of benefits as if it were house installed. This option is available to locations in Athens and near Savannah.
“We have the largest concentration of solar on military bases of any utility in the country and we are going to continue to expand it,” said Hancock. Most importantly, he noted that “for the first time, we know now what the true costs and benefits are and it gives us a guide.”
Continuing on the theme of the economic impacts, James Marlow, CEO, Radiance Solar, spoke of the “solar-coaster” ride of solar power. “Solar has won the war,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of battles to fight, that there’s not a lot of ground that’s got to be covered. But that solar, because of economics, because of technology, because of innovation, has reached a point where it is going to be a major component of our energy source.” Marlow pointed out that 260,000 people in the U.S. are employed in the solar industry, including 4,000 in Georgia.
While the country’s federal policy is uncertain, Marlow believes it is the economics that now drives the solar industry. GreenTech, an electricity market analysis and advisory firm, and Bloomberg, each predict the solar business to approximately triple in size. Marlow expects natural industry consolidation to accelerate. “You’ll see more mergers, more companies go out of business, but what you’re seeing is better equipment, more innovative equipment, more cost–effective equipment, yielding more kilowatt hours and a lower overall cost of energy provided by these plants.”