Senior Technical Leader
Morgan Scott is Senior Technical Leader at the Electric Power Research Institute.
Steve Mitnick is Editor-in-Chief of Public Utilities Fortnightly and author of the book “Lines Down: How We Pay, Use, Value Grid Electricity Amid the Storm.”
Electric Power Research Institute Senior Technical Leader Morgan Scott discusses the tie between sustainability and efficient electrification.
PUF's Steve Mitnick: What's your research area here at EPRI?
Morgan Scott: My research addresses sustainability, which refers to the concept of the triple bottom line: economic, environmental and social responsibility. We strive to develop the tools and resources that electric power companies need to build and enhance their sustainability programs, as well as strategically embed a sustainability mindset into their long-range planning and operational activities.
Efficient electrification ties nicely into sustainability, because the potential societal and customer benefits can map directly into an organization's sustainability efforts.
PUF's Steve Mitnick: What does your research involve?
Morgan Scott: It's unlike some of the other research that happens at EPRI. It's not looking at application of technologies or environmental modeling, but is instead aimed to conduct focused technical research to support individual company sustainability commitments, planning, and disclosure.
Our work aims to help companies better understand what "sustainability" actually means for this industry and how it affects stakeholders and customers. We currently have five specific streams of research in this area, with a new research program launching in January of next year.
One, we identify the electric power industry's priority sustainability issues - of which twenty were identified in research published earlier this fall. Second, we have built a maturity model to help companies assess how mature they are on particular priority issues and where they may want to enhance maturity moving forward.
The third stream focuses on metrics. In 2014, we tallied close to four hundred fifty individual metrics that companies are asked to disclose or report voluntarily each year. Our research since has focused on refining that list to the metrics appropriate for benchmarking performance for this industry.
The fourth stream of research is actually doing the benchmarking. We've developed an online platform where companies can submit their data and benchmark performance with their peers using the refined metrics.
Last but not least, we are examining how companies engage stakeholders and disclose their sustainability initiatives and performance. The goal is to help utilities understand current sustainability reporting trends, which may inform their decisions about future reporting and how to most efficiently and effectively allocate their sustainability-focused resources.
PUF's Steve Mitnick: Quite a few companies are working with you in these five areas. Why do you think there's so much interest?
Morgan Scott: Yes, we have 45 electric power companies collaborating on this work with us. Part of that is because there's keen interest among their stakeholders.
For example, customers who are setting their own sustainability goals, especially around emissions reductions or renewable generation, can have direct impacts on the electricity sector. When Google says it wants to be a hundred percent renewable, that can have a direct impact on their electric power providers.
We see a growing number of questions being asked from investors and the broader investment communities around ESG (environment, social, governance) performance and strategy.
Research has also identified a correlation between employee engagement and a visible commitment to sustainability. In an industry with a maturing workforce, sustainability may be helpful in both recruitment and retention of employees.
But the companies are also engaged because they see how sustainability can contribute to their overall business value, either through the development of new revenue streams, cost savings or avoidance, or managing risk.
PUF's Steve Mitnick: Where does the efficient electrification initiative tie in?
Morgan Scott: If you begin to consider the benefits of efficient electrification, you can see how they align with the sustainability triple-bottom-line concept of economic, environmental, and social responsibility.
In its various aspects, sustainability can be a both a driving force in efficient electrification, and a direct result. When you choose to electrify an end use, the potential benefits include improved air and water quality, enhanced customer relationships, enhanced power system operations. These are themselves priority sustainability issues.
I really see them going hand in hand: efficient electrification could be a sustainable strategy for an electric power company. Those are the things we're researching to understand more precisely.