2017 was a year of ever-changing odds for clean energy firms. Fortunes seesawed as the federal government pulled back on supportive policies, while cities and states countered with ambitious renewable energy pledges and goals. The Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan took punches from the Trump administration, while domestic fossil energy production became a top priority as regulatory agencies were realigned with the companies they regulate.
In spite of the murky regulatory climate, renewables continue to compete capably on almost every field. Wind and solar accounted for one-third of new generating capacity additions during the first nine months of 2017, and renewables are closing in on nuclear, poised to repeat what natural gas did to coal several years ago.
Corporate buyers are exhibiting an unprecedented level of interest in renewables. Facebook and Amazon to GM and Walmart have begun purchasing renewable energy and investing in projects.
Outside of the typical scrutiny, much of the attention paid to distribution utilities has focused on business models and revenues. However, utilities have many opportunities to use the market momentum for renewables as a springboard toward the future. Expect to see innovative utilities in 2018 enhance service offerings by incorporating renewable and distributed energy in three key areas:
Pricing: In 2018, utilities will invest in customer marketing and pricing strategies to enhance how retail pricing is managed. Data from smart meters will inform this process.
Options: From customized arrangements for large customers, to pre-packaged options for the small ones, utilities will make sure they have something to satisfy everyone. Presenting, explaining and delivering a range of energy solutions will become a cornerstone of meaningful customer relationships.
Platforms: While the technical challenge of integrating intermittent renewables will persist, utilities will spend more time thinking about the customer. Every time a customer invests in solar, energy efficiency, a battery, or a range of other technologies, utilities will consider the impacts — and opportunities — for the distribution system and will become increasingly adept at modeling these impacts at the customer level, with a heavy dependence on an underpinning of data analytics.
Renewable energy momentum will continue in 2018, even if the policy needle continues to flutter.