Glenn College Alumni Insights: Modernizing the Electric Grid

Change is coming to how you use power

Beth Trombold

Beth Trombold, MA '12

Commissioner, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio

For the last year, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has been focusing attention on a review of technological and regulatory innovation to enhance the customer electricity experience called PowerForward. We have been hosting national and state energy experts to discuss change that is coming to the way Ohioans use electricity, namely how innovative products and services can enhance your electricity experience.

You might be asking yourself what electricity experience? I flip the switch and my power is on as long as I pay my bill each month. You mean there's more to being an electric customer than that? Yes!

Technology in the electric industry is changing and so are customer expectations. Therefore, the PUCO has been focusing on the customer. For instance, how might innovation, both technological and regulatory, better the customer electricity experience in Ohio? What kind of products and services are customers looking for? Are electric customers happy with the grid today? How far away are we from customers expecting these changes?

To better explore the answers to these questions, the commissioners of the PUCO invited 126 industry experts, including representatives from Ohio utilities, to provide presentations to help us better understand our future electric distribution grid and how technological enhancements could affect different stakeholders. Their shared expertise will help us better frame a policy discussion about the grid of the future and chart a path forward for future grid modernization projects.

During twelve days of public discussion that was webcast live, the PUCO heard, unsurprisingly, that people are increasingly leveraging technology in their daily lives. They want control and access to information. Consumers today are always on, looking at their smart phones, managing their finances, shopping or working. As a result, they expect to be able to conduct business 24/7. Why should their electric company be any different? Why can’t an electric customer wanting to manage his/her power supply and energy costs do so?

All of the innovative services that come with a modernized grid require data. This starts with installing advanced metering infrastructure, commonly referred to as smart meters. However, the meter alone isn’t enough. Access to data beyond merely the number of kilowatt hours used per month drives innovative products, and smart appliances must be coupled with proper rate design to help translate that energy usage data into monetary savings.

However, we also heard that customer education is key to making these programs a success. Customer surveys indicate a need to increase awareness of energy savings programs, rather than a lack of consumer interest in smarter technology. Customers want technology, especially the growing number of millennial ratepayers who have never known a world without the internet.

Technology will also allow for more customized offerings by the electric utility. Current rate design models take a “one size fits all” view when it comes to individual rate classes (e.g. residential, commercial, industrial customers). However, each rate class contains customers with wide ranging circumstances, load profiles, and interests. For example, a standard residential rate class includes baby boomers and millennials, each of whom demand very different things from the electric grid. Flexibility in ratemaking could allow customers better access to the services they seek.

With a comprehensive grid modernization policy in place, Ohio utilities and suppliers will be able to provide advanced services that bring many more options for customers’ to be engaged in their energy usage decisions.

My fellow commissioners and I are hard at work translating our PowerForward discussions into a robust grid modernization policy that will help move Ohio’s electric distribution system into the 21st century.

To learn more, catch short recap videos and read other materials, visit the PUCO website at www.PUCO.ohio.gov.



The opinions, recommendations, findings and conclusions presented in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not represent a policy position or views of either the John Glenn College of Public Affairs or the Ohio State University.



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