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Executive Forum Looks to Capture Value for Consumers From Microgrids, Energy Storage, and Renewable Natural Gas

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Top executives and policy makers recently gathered for a forum on a set of advanced energy technologies not always at the center of attention. At the AEE Executive Forum, entitled Microgrids, Energy Storage, and Renewable Natural Gas: Capturing Value for Consumers, the focus of the conversation was on the opportunities presented by the adoption of these technologies and the challenges of bringing them to scale. “For this forum, AEE brought together senior leadership from member companies, entrepreneurs and investors, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, and investor-owned utilities to address fundamental policies to strengthen our industry’s ability to transform the market and deliver resilient and reliable renewable energy,” said AEE CEO Nat Kreamer. Over dinner and a daylong dialogue, participants in this exclusive event also had the opportunity to network and build relationships among providers, utilities, regulators, and institutional customers.

After an initial session to set the stage with an overview of microgrids, storage, and renewable thermal markets, the discussion took a dive into new and expanded use cases for microgrids and energy storage while addressing key technical and operational challenges, including interconnection to the transmission and distribution system and the need to clarify the roles of utilities, developers, and consumers. Another focus was capturing the full value of energy storage and microgrids through participation in both wholesale and retail markets. Afternoon sessions included a presentation of the entrepreneur’s perspective on microgrids and storage, a robust examination of the opportunities and challenges presented by the development of renewable natural gas resources, and a discussion of the role of utilities vs. third-party ownership as we seek to align objectives and business models to modernize the grid.

One key aspect of the day was coming to a clear, shared understanding of what renewable natural gas (which is controversial in some quarters) is and its role in a low-carbon energy system (see our blog post, “Renewable Natural Gas: a Fuel of the Future?”). Participants appeared to agree that there is a role for pipeline-compatible gas derived from biomass such as food waste or other renewable resources with lower lifecycle CO2 emissions than geologic natural gas. A goal of the conversation was to define that role, and to begin to address barriers to its implementation. 

The exclusive forum, moderated by AEE’s Lisa Frantzis and Jeff Dennis, brought together over 30 industry leaders from companies including Veolia North America, ABB, Compass Energy Platform, Stem, Sidewalk Labs (an Alphabet company), Lockheed Martin, National Grid, Ultra Capital, Schneider Electric, M.J. Bradley & Associates, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, Hannon Armstrong, Enel X North America, ENGIE, Pinnacle West Capital Corp. / Arizona Public Service Co., Mintz, IMBY Energy, Landis + Gyr, and Tritium. Held in Boston, the event was co-hosted by the Boston University Institute for Sustainability and Northeastern University, and sponsored by Ameresco, Eversource Energy, and Dominion Energy. 

“I often find myself starved for people with whom I can have an intelligent and informed conversation around energy,” noted one participant. “Today, I was paddling to keep up!” 

AEE convenes Executive Forums throughout the year under the premise that if you bring together key stakeholders who are invested in a given topic, everyone brings expertise, and all participants come away having expanded their knowledge and made new connections. These invitation-only events complement AEE’s public events, including our regional conferences Advanced Energy Now | East, to be held May 21, 2020, in Annapolis, MD (registration now open), and Advanced Energy Now | West, December 3, 2020, in Denver, CO.

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