Public policies forcing change
States, utilities, energy services companies, and technology providers have been pursuing clean energy initiatives for decades to reduce energy use and customer bills, spur technological innovation, and reduce fossil fuel use and dependence on imported energy. Utility industry restructuring in many parts of the country opened the electricity and natural gas industries to competition in the late 1990s, driven largely by federal energy policy. Other countries have been pursuing similar or even more aggressive efforts of their own for decades to reduce dependency on the use of fossil fuels and to replace electric-generating capacity with cleaner and renewable energy resources.
These efforts internationally were driven by the need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to mitigate the impacts of climate change. A quick look at data in Figure 1 (download PDF) shows that clean and renewable energy resource additions far outpaced other resources in net power-generating capacity added in 2017. This trend continues a near-decade-long transition away from fossil-fueled generating capacity toward more environmentally sustainable resources.
The electricity industry continues to experience low-to-moderate growth in demand, due to significant improvements in energy efficiency and demand management. New demand management technologies, residential and commercial building codes, appliance standards, fuel economy standards for vehicles, and other creative policy approaches have significantly reduced fossil energy use and GHG emissions from the trajectory they would have otherwise been on.
This said, it is difficult to know how much of the industry’s flat sales growth is a manifestation of generation being shifted from utilities and large power generators to smaller behind-the-meter generation (self-generation), which is not as easily tracked. Electricity demand continues to increase, with the share of the market served by utilities near stagnant, and non-utility-provided generation increasing. And, with the increase in customer-sited and non-utility generation, and distributed energy resources being added to the electricity grid, the complexity of maintaining grid control and reliability increases.
DeCotis, Paul A. (Dec. 2019). “Electric-Sector Capabilities Needed to Address Climate Change.” Natural Gas & Electricity Journal. 36/5, ©2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., a Wiley company.