America’s Power Plan: A New Series on Rapid Change in the US Power Sector

Game-changing new technologies, consumer demand for cleaner, more efficient energy, an aging and increasingly obsolete grid, dramatic reductions in the cost of renewables — these are among the many forces radically reshaping America’s electricity sector.

Analysts agree we are at a pivotal moment in America’s energy history. Decisions and investments made in the next decade will shape the course of the power industry, the economy, and public health for decades to come.

America’s Power Plan examines the challenges facing the country’s electric power system at this juncture and proposes policy and market-design solutions. More than 150 top energy experts have contributed to this project, offering innovative recommendations on utility business models, finance, distributed generation, distributed energy sources, market design, transmission and siting.

Power companies and regulators are facing critical decisions. Will they pave the way for innovation, or solidify barriers against it? Our hope is that America’s Power Plan will start conversations and serve as a toolkit of strategies for state, county, and municipal decision makers who know best how to tailor the recommendations for local realities.

“America’s Power Plan has started an important and timely discussion, mapping a path forward that should be considered by every serious utility executive and PUC commissioner across the country,” says Andy Karsner, CEO of Manifest Energy and former Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy under President George W. Bush.

“The train has left the station,” he told us. “Consumers are leading a ‘bottom up’ market transformation by going to their local Home Depot for solar panels, clicking Amazon.com to buy smart thermostats, and much more — with greater impact than anyone in government or industry planned or anticipated.”

The growth of on-site generation — from rooftop solar to wind-powered factories—along with smart appliances, competitive power suppliers, and demand response efforts is changing the relationship between American consumers and electric utilities. And that can be difficult for utilities, especially when red tape gets in the way, says Jonathan Weisgall, Vice President of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company.

“If Apple wants to put a new product in the marketplace tomorrow, it can do it. It doesn’t need anyone’s approval,” Weisgall says. “A utility with a new product needs the approval of regulators. And we are not known for being the fastest movers. I think utilities need to be given a little more flexibility to try new products or new programs in order to take advantage of changes in the marketplace, be it charging electric vehicles, distributed generation or the like. Smarter regulation and market design — along the lines of the recommendations in America’s Power Plan — can facilitate this.”

We have made some important discoveries in curating America’s Power Plan:

  • There is broad acceptance that we are in a period of rapid change, which is looked on with either eagerness or trepidation.
  • There is a sense that many of the changes are inevitable, that, as Andy Karsner said, “the train has left the station,” and that our policies will have to adapt to them.
  • All of the recommendations made in the Plan are already being tried somewhere, but must be more widely embraced.
  • The policies recommended are evolutionary, not revolutionary, but they must be addressed soon, as changes are happening fast.

Please spend some time with the research, the recommendations, and the other materials, and let us know what you think. America’s Power Plan is intended to be the start of a conversation that may go on for decades.

America's Power PlanThis is the first in a series of articles on America’s Power Plan, a policy plan curated by the Energy Foundation, in partnership with Energy Innovation. The Plan taps 150 experts to develop recommendations for dealing with rapid change in the power sector on the way to a clean energy future.

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Our nation’s electricity system is undergoing a rapid transformation. Market forces, driven by public demand for cleaner, more efficient energy, and technological innovation are redefining America’s power sector. These trends will change the electricity system and utility businesses at their core. But our century-old legal, economic, and regulatory structures are thwarting innovation. More than 150 top energy experts from academia, industry, and non-profits have joined America’s Power Plan, a project designed to tackle the tough questions and provide a vehicle for policymakers at the state and local levels to address these challenges and make informed decisions about the future of our nation's power system.

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