New technologies like energy storage, increasing demand for distributed and renewable energy sources, as well as competition from such innovative companies as Google, Amazon, and Tesla, are potential challenges, but opportunities as well, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) CEO Calvin Butler Jr., said on Oct. 9.
“This is one reason why innovation’s part of our company pillars,” Butler said during his keynote speech at the Maryland Clean Energy Center’s 2018 Maryland Clean Energy Summit held in College Park, Md. “Our employees understand that as part of our core mission, along with safety, reliability, and creating a diverse and inclusive culture.”
He also noted that the regulatory construct for energy companies is a major factor in what companies do, adding: “You can develop extremely innovative ideas, but regulatory approval is necessary to moving forward with many of them. That is why we are working very closely with the Maryland Public Service Commission, the PSC, on the idea of pilot programs.”
One example, he said, is BGE’s recently approved pre-paid service pilot, in which customers can pay for their service in advance, much like one does for prepaid cell phones. Other utilities in the country that have implemented that type of program report that prepaid customers typically consume between 5% and 15% less energy, Butler said, adding that Exelon’s (NYSE:EXC) BGE is optimistic that it will see the same behavior in its service area.
Butler also noted that the company deployed one of the first Bloom Energy services in Maryland, adding, “The server uses fuel cell technology to convert natural gas into electricity through an electrochemical process rather than combustion, reducing carbon emissions and eliminating smog-forming air pollutants.”
He further noted that in March, the company began using Proterra all-electric, zero-emission buses to shuttle employees between two campuses.
“By visibly demonstrating electric buses, we have already sparked conversations with municipalities and other corporations that want to learn more and understand how they can shift away from pollution-producing vehicles,” Butler said.
He continued, “At BGE, we didn’t do it to sit back and show it off; we did it to lead the way, to learn more, and to get ready for the coming [electric vehicle, or] EV boom – and we know it’s coming.”
The company has also installed EV chargers at each of its work locations for employees to use, he said, adding that the company “made sure to install smart chargers – this technology allows drivers and the utility company to communicate, much like a smart meter. We will gain some insights into charging behaviors and learn how to best manage charging so that it strengthens the grid.”
The state of Maryland also sees the positive potential in transportation electrification, setting a goal to have 300,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025, Butler noted. Currently, there are fewer than 15,000 registered vehicles, “which means there’s a lot of work to do,” he said.
BGE, Maryland’s other utilities, charging infrastructure manufacturers, environmental groups, and consumer advocates came together at the PSC to propose a plan to help meet that goal through the creation of a robust EV charging network, Butler said. The current proposal includes rebates for residential and commercial customers, as well as developers and multi-tenant building managers, to install chargers, he said.
He noted that “the PSC has held two sets of hearings on the proposal and we anticipate a decision at any time.”
Another potentially transformational technology is battery storage, Butler said, adding that this year, the company brought a battery storage pilot online at one of its substations – the Cold Spring substation – to help meet peak demand for electricity during the hottest days of the summer.
“Under traditional planning methods, we would forecast future load, see that the current substation would not meet demand on just a handful of days, and start to either expand or build a new substation, costing tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “We anticipate that battery storage will delay and potentially allow us to avoid major substation work since the stored energy is more than enough to meet peak demand during those few summer days.”
The pilot will help BGE prove that batteries are a viable technology on a grid-scale level, allowing the company to maintain reliability on its highest demand days, and that the technology will help the company to avoid costly infrastructure upgrades, saving customers money, he said.
Energy storage also represents an area where the industry, the company’s partners, and Exelon utilities can learn and support each other, Butler said, noting that within Exelon, utilities have approached energy storage in different ways so that their pilot projects can inform each other by ensuring that work is not being duplicated.
Noting that the industry is evolving, Butler said that nearly 30,000 BGE customers have connected private solar systems to the grid. Even with emerging technologies, the grid remains critical, he said, adding, “Interconnecting clean, renewable generation, storing electricity for future use, and powering demand created by electric vehicles, for instance, require a reliable, smart, and resilient grid.”
Butler also noted that the company has had a fully deployed smart grid for several years now, and that BGE was one of the first utilities in the country to deploy conservation voltage reduction (CVR) technology on a large-scale basis. That technology lowers energy consumption by reducing the voltage, he said. By the end of 2017, about 40% of the company’s electric distribution system was on CVR, he said, adding, “At full deployment, we expect CVR will save customers more than 250,000 MWh of electricity.”
Among other things, he noted that the company is “investing hundreds of millions of dollars into securing” the system against such threats as cyber-attacks.