Community and Customer Benefits of Electrification


Electrification 2020 Track E

Fortnightly Magazine - February 10 2020

Keep your eyes on the customer. Any utility executive or regulator will advise that as the forces of change continue their rollercoaster ride. It's why there will be a track E of five sessions at Electrification 2020 on the community and customer benefits of electrification. Ride through this track, and hang on as you will learn important aspects of value tests and economy-wide analyses, before coming out of the last tunnel knowing how to effectively convey the messages of electrification to customers.

Tom Wilson, Principal Technical Executive, Energy Systems and Climate Analysis

PUF: What do you do at EPRI?

Tom Wilson: I was the co-lead for writing the U.S. National Electrification Assessment.

I used to manage the group that did a lot of the analytical work behind that study. Currently I'm working on understanding decarbonization more generally in both the near term and longer-term opportunities for reducing carbon emissions in the U.S. and abroad.

PUF: Are you the modeler behind the newest project?

Tom Wilson: One of the main takeaways will be how much the energy world has changed and how much of conventional wisdom may no longer be true.

Tom Wilson: No, there's a modeling team here that does the work. Geoff Blanford is our head modeler both for the electrification work and for looking at decarbonization strategies. My role is more to communicate, interpret, and try to make sense of the results of the modeling and apply them to the questions people are asking.

PUF: The decarbonization work you, Geoff and the rest of the team do looking to 2030, 2050 or beyond, that's important to the subject of electrification and to the Electrification 2020 Conference. What's the connection?

Tom Wilson: We've known for a long time that electrification looked like an important pathway to decarbonization. But the kinds of assessments we were doing back around 2005 or so were very aggregated, looking at electric technologies at a high level.

We weren't getting into the details of trying to understand how electric vehicle technologies might work for different types of households, how heat pumps work in different climates, or specific technology choices for industry, the issues where the rubber meets the road in terms of electrification. 

Omar Siddiqui: I’m interested in the perspectives of regulators and those involved in public policy, to understand their top issues and to pinpoint key barriers to broader electrification in society.

The focus over the last four years or so has been on understanding those details of electrification in the modeling that impact customer choice, looking at different locations and types of homes or buildings, and people who drive a lot versus a little, and looking at a variety of industrial energy needs.

PUF: You're finding some important information, like electrification leveraging the emission reductions we are making in the electric sector, is vitally important for decarbonizing the U.S. economy.

Tom Wilson: Yes. We're seeing this, not only in the U.S. but around the world. In Europe, electrification has been a key focus since around 2009 or 2010, when the EU Commission identified electrification as a key pathway to deep carbon reductions.

It took a little bit longer in the U.S. to catch hold, but it's been brought on by a couple of things.

One is that it makes sense to electrify economically and environmentally now for many energy uses, where in the past it would be more expensive and make less of an environmental impact.

That's because electricity is rapidly getting cleaner. The electric sector has reduced its carbon emissions per kilowatt hour by twenty-eight percent since 2005 and electricity prices have stayed essentially the same.

And electricity looks like it will get even cleaner in the near future because of renewables, low-cost natural gas, state policies, and company commitments. At the same time, electric technologies such as cars and heat pumps are progressing rapidly in terms of their efficiency, performance, and cost.

PUF: What are you and your group going to concentrate on at Electrification 2020?

Tom Wilson: I'm helping organize Track E, which focuses on community and customer benefits of electrification and there are five key issues we're trying to hit there. First of all, we want to get an overview of how much progress people are making in electrifying, what's happening globally, as well as in different parts of the U.S. in terms of programs for electrification and their effectiveness.

There's a hunger now in the U.S. to move quickly and understand what other states are doing, where they've been effective, and where they've maybe run into some bumps. States are looking hard at electrification and learning from others' experiences is important at this point.

A second issue that we're looking at is cost-benefit or value tests for electrification programs.

Electrification is a lot like efficiency in that there are a lot of factors that can keep people from making choices that would ultimately save them money.

If you're looking at a homeowner, buying an electric technology might make a lot of sense over a three- or five-year period, but there may be higher upfront costs, which is similar to efficiency. The upfront cost can make it a hard investment for an individual to make. So, our second panel will look at the value tests that states are using to examine customer incentive programs and whether we should consider incentive programs for electrification like there are for efficiency.

A third one is assessment. How good are we doing at trying to analyze what customers' choices are and what choices they might make? 

It's hard to know exactly what the wiring in your house looks like or understand your transportation needs and how electric might play versus other technologies in meeting those needs. We'll discuss the state of assessment methods for transportation, buildings, and industry in terms of electrification.

Our fourth panel will focus on understanding the potential environmental benefits. Our national assessment of electrification focused on carbon as the environmental endpoint of interest. However, for a lot of technologies, things like local air pollution and other environmental endpoints such as water usage and so on are even more important in the short term to driving customer adoption.

Looking more broadly at the air, land, and water implications of electric technologies, and things like workplace safety and other types of implications of electric technologies is a fourth focus in the community and customer benefits track.

The final focus will be on a longer-term view - where will we be in thirty years? If you're looking at things like deep decarbonization, how far can electricity take you potentially? Today about twenty percent of final energy is electric. What would the world look like if that were more like fifty percent electric?

As you decarbonize, what are the limits to what electricity can provide, and where do you need to look to other technologies? That's the fifth panel in our track. So, it's a broad track looking at benefits of electrification, both for the community and society.

PUF: For regulators or government officials who want to go to these tracks, what will they take away when they go back to their work?

Tom Wilson: There are a number of things, but I think one of the main takeaways will be how much the energy world has changed and how much of conventional wisdom may no longer be true. One of the strange things about electrification is that a lot of what is true today was not true twenty years ago. Now electricity is cleaner, and the electric technologies are so much better than they were.

An electric vehicle in 1980 would not be a mass market kind of thing. They just were not capable. You'd be happy to get forty miles of range as opposed to three hundred and twenty miles you might get today.

Everything has changed and we're trying to understand instances in which policies or regulations might be slowing the adoption of electric technologies, when perhaps you want to be encouraging the adoption of these technologies or at least be neutral to them.

An important component of attending is to help people stand back and reassess the types of policies and regulations they have in place and think about whether they still help them meet their objectives.

Report - Economic Impact of Covid 19 on Utilities

There's a real hunger for information and experience. Since this is a new topic with new ideas and new changes in paradigms emerging daily, we're hearing from many states that would like to understand how other states are proceeding in trying to allow or encourage electrification and particularly, how they are trying to provide benefits to all.

PUF: What do you hope to see, hear, and learn at this conference? What do you hope to take away?

Tom Wilson: There are a couple of key things. One is to see people taking action. When you're conducting modeling of 2030, 2040, and 2050, you think and talk about a lot of possibilities, but seeing people beginning to implement those possibilities is both rewarding and invaluable for refining the modeling.

The other aspect is surfacing clearer questions. What are the challenges that people are facing as they try to implement programs? If they have a program to help provide vehicle charging, what kind of problems are they running into?

Discussing those issues is critical because we're talking about potentially an extraordinarily rapid, customer-driven transition. In our U.S. National Electrification Assessment, we projected - based on vehicle economics and household driving needs - that forty percent of new vehicle purchases could be electric or have a plug by 2030, and today that's only about two percent.

In ten years, that's a dramatic change. It's understanding the kinds of challenges people are facing, because they differ by state, country, and region. Understanding those challenges, what people would like to accomplish, and what they need to accomplish to meet their policy goals, is critical to shaping our future assessment efforts.

Omar Siddiqui, Senior Technical Executive, Energy Utilization

PUF: What is your role at EPRI?

Omar Siddiqui: I currently manage our program on "Understanding Electric Utility Customers," which encompasses research on customer preferences for products and services, customer data analytics, and integrating customer insights into utility forecasting and planning.

For example, we analyze customers' preferences amongst, and interactions with, different types of rate designs. We also assess customer data analytics from not just advanced meters but also connected digital devices in the home. Finally, we are investigating methods to integrate customer adoption and use of energy-shaping technologies - such as solar, electric vehicles, energy storage, and advanced building technologies - into utility forecasting and planning.

PUF: What are you going to be doing at the Electrification conference?

Omar Siddiqui: I'm providing input into various discussion topics, such as how rate designs can influence de-carbonization through electrification.

Another subject that I will be exploring at the conference is customer perception of all-electric homes and buildings. My colleagues and I are interested in better understanding the barriers that may inhibit greater public acceptance of all-electric homes and buildings. At the conference, I'm planning to probe customer barriers to electrification for end-users with a large, non-electric market share, such as space heating, water heating, and cooking.

PUF: This is aimed at mostly the residential customer as opposed to some of your colleagues who concentrate more on commercial and industrial?

Omar Siddiqui: Not at all - our work explores all customer sectors. While it is fair to say that a good deal of our research has been on the residential side, this is certainly not exclusive.

In fact, we have a project in our program planned for 2020 that is specifically looking at perceptions of all-electric buildings from the perspective of commercial customers. An intriguing building segment is all-electric mixed-use buildings, which combine commercial - such as office, retail and restaurants - with multi-family housing, typically in urban centers.

 Such buildings are intended to revitalize downtowns and reduce sprawl and traffic congestion by co-locating places where people can both live and work. All-electric, mixed-use buildings offer the added benefit of helping cities achieve their carbon reduction goals - many cities across the country have such policy objectives. We're studying what attributes attract customers to all-electric, mixed-use buildings, as well as what barriers to overcome.

PUF: Who should want to come and see these sessions?

Omar Siddiqui: Any utility professional, public sector stakeholder, or technology provider looking to develop keener insights into customer perspectives on electrification, and how to convey the messages of electrification to customers, would be well served to attend Electrification 2020 and participate in these discussion tracks.

We'll have great speakers and vibrant panel sessions, and we are counting on enthusiastic participation from the audience for interactive Q&A and discussion sessions.

Beyond the sessions themselves, the networking that takes place during and between sessions and on the exhibit floor is invaluable. It's an opportunity for technology companies and service providers to better understand both utility and customer perspectives on what is needed to advance electrification.

PUF: A lot of the public don't know how great these extra benefits are.

Omar Siddiqui: That's true. The technology has been advancing, and one example is heat pumps. For many people, their perception of heat pumps is colored by experiences from decades ago. The technology has vastly improved in terms of efficiency, comfort, controllability, and applicability to colder climates. That's an area of active research at EPRI, for both laboratory testing and field evaluations.

This conference will provide an opportunity for people to better understand the state of the technology and their performance vis-à-vis customer expectations by learning from the experiences of field deployments and pilots.

While I realize that I'm describing more of a building-centric perspective of electrification, obviously the example most people associate with electrification is electric vehicles. Without question, the transportation sector will also be a huge point of emphasis at the conference.

From a customer perspective, while public exposure to electric vehicles has improved, there's still quite an information gap to bridge in order to mainstream electric vehicles, particularly in applications beyond cars, including light-duty pickups, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and fleet applications. 

PUF: What do you hope to hear or see or learn?

Omar Siddiqui: I want to better understand and get a feel for what people from different perspectives are thinking about electrification, whether technology experts, behavioral experts, or people from diverse stakeholder groups. I'm interested in the perspectives of regulators and those involved in public policy, to understand their top issues and to pinpoint key barriers to broader electrification in society.

Contributing to, and participating in, Electrification 2020 will help me shape my program's research agenda over the next few years and influence dialogue with my utility program advisors. I find going to these conferences personally inspiring, as was certainly the case at Electrification 2018 in Long Beach. I look forward to the dynamism, energy, and interaction with talented, diverse people from government, industry, utility, research, and academia.

It's great to understand how we can, collectively, advance electrification for the benefit of society. I'm looking forward to that inspiration, to the dialogue, and to seeing amazing technologies on the exhibit hall floor.

Track E: Community and Customer Benefits of Electrification

Session E1: Updates: National and Regional Progress on Electrification

The pace of electrification will be driven by starting point and available technologies combined with national, state and local policies/regulations. This session will explore the costs and lessons learned from electrification policies implemented by governments around the world.

Session E2: Value Tests: Assessing Customer Electrification Programs

Similar to energy efficiency, efficient electrification often faces non-economic barriers. Regulatory value tests provide an essential tool for developing and funding programs to overcome these barriers. This session will explore emerging approaches to assess electrification programs and their applications.

Session E3: The State of Electrification Assessments: Economy-Wide Analyses

The ultimate extent of electrification and the pace of change are highly uncertain and depend on technological change, policies, and evolving customer preferences. Speakers on this panel will provide their views about what we do well and what we do poorly in modeling transportation, building, and industrial technology choices and implications.

Session E4: Ecosystem and Environmental Impacts and Benefits of Electrification

Electrification can have both local and global environmental impacts and benefits. This session explores the sometimes contradictory literature and statements surrounding electrification environmental impacts on air, land and water resources.

Report - Economic Impact of Covid 19 on Utilities

Session E5: Meeting Long-Term Environmental Goals with Electric Technologies at Scale

Electrification across the economy is projected to play a central role in meeting long-term environmental goals. This session will discuss what an energy system that is 50% electric could look like, identify hard-to-electrify end-uses and discuss strategies for further environmental gains.


Conversations about Electrification 2020 Tracks: