Energy leaders talk about beneficial electrification challenges, opportunities

EnergyLines November 2019

Hoosier Energy recently hosted Electrify Indiana, a conference about the beneficial electrification of future goods and services. The conference welcomed more than 100 participants. Many electric cooperatives were present at the event.

 

Beneficial Electrification is a term emerging in the energy industry. The Beneficial Electrification League asserts that beneficial electrification includes:

 

The application of electricity to end-users that would otherwise consume fossil fuels such as: fuel oil, diesel, natural gas, propane and gasoline. Using electricity satisfies at least one of the following conditions, without adversely affecting the others:

  • Save consumers money over time
  • Benefit the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Improve product quality or consumer quality of life
  • Fosters a robust and resilient grid

 

During the conference, Scott Bowers, Vice President, Public Policy and Member Services moderated a Q&A session focusing on viewpoints from industry leaders on beneficial electrification opportunities. This is an excerpt of that discussion.

 

The panel included:

Donna Walker, President and CEO, Hoosier Energy

Stan Pinegar, Indiana State President, Duke Energy

John Gasstrom, CEO, Indiana Electric Cooperatives

Mark Maassel, President, Indiana Energy Association

 

Bowers: The panel of leaders here today have had long and distinguished careers in the electric utility industry. What are the key drivers you see behind beneficial electrification?

 

Walker: Recently, we have seen states come out with aggressive climate goals. Underlying that is what consumers are looking for. As the cost of renewables goes down, doing something becomes more economical. That is the evolution that I have seen.

 

Pinegar: I agree with Donna. I think that customer demand is moving us in that direction. This is a good opportunity to grow our volumes and that is good for an investor-owned utility from a rates standpoint for our customers.

 

Gasstrom: In the information age, the consumer is much more educated and they want to know where their product comes from. They want to know that the energy they use is responsible, sustainable and reliable. This is at the crux of what we do.

 

Bowers: What are some things related to energy you see taking place nationally that will gain traction here in Indiana?

 

Pinegar: In other states, there are commissions that are willing to step out more quickly than others and I respect that. I think the burden is on the utility submitting proposals that affect change.

 

Walker: I think Indiana has a real opportunity to look at things holistically. In my mind, it begins with access to high-speed internet for all Hoosiers. This is essential for everybody to benefit. I think the state needs to take a strategic approach to the electric vehicle infrastructure rather than allow it to pop up in urban pockets and leave rural areas unserved.

 

Bowers: What are some game changers that could help beneficial electrification take shape in Indiana?

 

Walker: I think one of the game changers will be the evolution of battery technology. What will really change things is when there is long-term proven successes with batteries.

 

Maassel: Another example is refrigerators that track what’s inside. Those that want this level of technology in their home connects to the generational shift that is taking place. As utilities do things for the benefit of consumers, technology advancements are things to track going forward.

 

Bowers: What are some of the challenges facing beneficial electrification in Indiana?

 

Pinegar: We need commission approval to socialize much of this cost. The burden is on Duke Energy to make that case. There has to be a finding by the commissioners that there is benefit across our entire service territory not just a handful.

 

Gasstrom: It is our charge to make information readily available to the public about electric devices – things that help put them at ease. For example, electric vehicles are a substantial investment for the average homeowner. You have to help with those consumer concerns.

 

Maassel: The electric industry faces challenges in terms of its infrastructure. How the industry adapts to consumer behavior is an important consideration. Reaching out to them to identify the products and services that they want to have and how to help them is important. We are moving to a point where every customer wants it their way. They experience this in other businesses and they might wonder why they can’t get that from their energy company as they do from others.