Fortnightly Magazine - September 2009
Our economic future depends on adaptability.
For the past several months, analysts and pundits have been using the term “the new normal” to describe post-recession economic conditions. The phrase describes a variety of changes, from stock-market returns to personal savings rates, but it boils down to this: After the recession, the economy will go through a soft recovery, and it won’t return to pre-recession levels of financial and market activity in the mid-term future.
Volatile markets call for alternative financial models.
Should the power industry adapt its approach to capital markets in this environment? The answer, of course, is yes. Multiple frameworks are necessary to establish a power company’s or project’s current cost of capital, especially under volatile capital market conditions. The analyses reveal that in today’s capital markets, it is critical to balance or combine the alternative approaches to the cost of capital in order to develop a long-term view.
Will unconventional gas assure plentiful supplies?
At the moment, the United States is experiencing a glut of natural gas with record underground gas storage inventories and prices around $4/MMBtu, which serves to underscore the new thinking about U.S. natural gas supply—i.e., future gas supplies might be less constrained than earlier studies suggested they would. Given the speed with which the expectations for U.S. natural gas have changed, it’s reasonable to ask how solid is this new thinking about U.S. natural gas supply and what should the role of natural gas be in meeting our long-term energy needs in a carbon-constrained economy?
Defining the mission when the consumer plays second-fiddle to the needs of the market.
Six months back, when ISO New England was mulling over various reforms that FERC had mandated last fall in Order 719 for the nation’s six regional transmission organizations and independent system operators (RTOs and ISOs are interchangeable terms in this column), the ISO refused point blank to include in its mission statement a proposal by stakeholders that it should operate the bulk power system at the “lowest reasonable cost.”
The 40 Best Energy Companies
(September 2009) The industry’s best companies are weathering the financial storm reasonably well, with the F40 delivering equity returns in the 14-percent range for fiscal 2008. However, falling sales and rising costs are putting heavy pressure on balance sheets—and on regulatory relationships. Companies that balance customer value and shareholder value will be most likely to thrive in the new normal.
Granular customer data will revolutionize megawatt markets.
Advanced metering and other smart technologies will allow more granular monitoring of conservation efforts, making them highly predictable for resource planning and system dispatch. Eventually, the smart grid will erase distinctions between wholesale and retail markets.
Realizing the benefits of smart meters.
Information is power, and through smart technologies utility customers will gain access to that information. The challenge faced by utilities is to harness consumer benefits by boosting customer acceptance and participation in programs designed to lower system expenses.
Radio waves deliver flexibility and security.
The concept of a wireless smart grid is gaining popularity. Some utilities are participating in pilots providing two-way secure radio frequency network coverage. They say the grid is well suited to wireless and the benefits only now are becoming known.