Welcome to 2031: Julia Hamm Presents Utility of Tomorrow

Amidst a darkened room, space-age music and a distinct hush, Julia Hamm stepped onstage as the CEO of Tomorrow Power and Light (TP&L) during its annual meeting in 2031. She announced that the utility was thrilled to declare that TP&L was now the first major utility in the continental U.S. with solar power as its top power source, receiving 30 percent of the energy that it delivers to its customers from solar power.

Hamm then went on to outline the path that the utility took to arrive at this point, stating that while solar power now, in 2031, is taken for granted, back in 2011 it wasn’t.  “When I joined the utility in 2011, solar power wasn’t very high on the list of national priorities,” she said. “A recession, skyrocketing unemployment rates, national debt and global security issues far out-shadowed energy issues,” she added.

From the vantage point of 2031, however, it is clear that 2011 was the turning point for solar power, Hamm said.  It was the first “gigawatt year” in the U.S., with the country installing more than 1 GW of solar power, reflecting almost 100 percent growth in the industry, all taking place in the middle of a recession.

Municipal utilities also made great strides increasing solar power capacity in 2011 with the energy source spreading across the U.S. to states that previously had very little solar in their energy mixes.

That momentum continued, said Hamm (still presenting at the 2031 annual meeting of TP&L). The first national energy policy was passed in 2013. A clean energy bank was created in 2014 to provide long-term, low-cost financing for clean energy projects. Smart grid standards were finally put in place in 2016 and with that high penetration and intermittency were less of an issue for utilities who embraced solar. Customers were using less energy than ever before. “By 2018, solar was the least cost resource at the retail level within TP&L for our customers and it was quickly approaching wholesale costs,” said Hamm. Customers of TP&L in 2018 could go solar cheaper than the utility could provide them with electricity. 

In 2020, the Energy Growth and Security Act was passed, which provided incentives to utilities to decouple energy sales from fixed and capital costs. Even though the utility was selling half the amount of electricity that it sold in 2011, revenue remained the same. In 2022, the majority of cars in the country were electric and those vehicles were now part of the load balancing solutions that utilities rely on to keep the grid stable. In 2025, energy storage became a real solution and by 2028 solar was a mainstream energy source.

The one constant that remained steadfast throughout this transitional time in history, according to TP&L CEO Hamm was the strong relationship between the utility and the solar industry. “Without the collaboration between the utility and solar industries, we never would have gotten here,” she said.

The mission of the solar electric power association (SEPA) of which Hamm really is the president and CEO, is to bridge that divide between the solar industry and electric utilities.  Through SEPA’s hard work, the utility of 2031 might indeed look just like the one that Hamm laid out last week.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com

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