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State of the Industry in 2021

Tilak Subrahmanian's picture
Vice President Eversource

As Vice President for Eversource, Tilak Subrahmanian leads a team that is focused on scaling energy efficiency, peak demand management, storage and electric vehicles to develop the clean energy...

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-01 - State of the Industry, click here for more

As the year comes to a close, many of us are looking to next year, and what lies ahead. While this year has certainly taught us to take any prediction with a grain of salt, my years of experience in the energy industry have taught me that despite uncertainty, you always have to keep an eye on what’s next and where the industry is going, not just in December, but all 12 months of the year.

I see the energy industry going in exciting directions— in 2021 and beyond. Here are a few of the trends I’m seeing and what I expect to be the major issues utilities and other energy service providers will have to grapple with in 2021.

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Continuing to manage the impacts of COVID-19

It’s clear that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be the backdrop of all industries in 2021. Our response to the pandemic has been agile and constantly adaptive. This approach allowed us to quickly implement virtual assessments, redesign our offerings and incentives to help customers save more during this challenging time, and bring together stakeholders across the region to support the green workforce and keep energy efficiency work going. We will have to continue to be nimble throughout 2021.

Three questions I’m asking my teams as we plan for 2021: 1) How can we deliver energy and cost savings with a quick payback to help customers with already stressed finances? 2) What guidance and offerings can we provide to help customers mitigate the potential increase in energy use as businesses reopen with an emphasis on, or in some cases requirement for, increased air-flow? 3) How do we continue to support our network of contractors and business partners and the green energy workforce as a whole as we continue to navigate the economic impacts of the pandemic?

Increased importance on reducing carbon emissions

From fires in the west to an unprecedented hurricane season, it’s clear the impacts of climate change are here. In 2021 I expect greater urgency than ever from many stakeholders to put in place policies and strategies to make meaningful progress with regards to reducing carbon emissions. How do we do that?  One piece of the puzzle is to make sure metrics, measurement and valuation of energy efficiency, demand management and strategic electrification programs align with policy goals. Should we shift from an exclusive focus on energy savings to greenhouse gas reductions? How do we value peak demand reductions in both summer and winter? These are just a few of the questions we’re starting to ask in the Northeast, and I expect they will be important topics of conversation across the country in 2021.

Customer engagement will continue to be king

The success of our energy efficiency programs for the past ten years has been driven by data analytics and intelligent customer segmentation. While we’ve come a long way, there is still much to be done. For one thing, program administrators the Northeast and other parts of the country have successfully transformed the LED lighting market, which means we won’t be able to claim savings on lighting in the next three to five years. LED lighting is a quick fix with a high payback, and to keep energy and emissions reductions moving forward we will need to engage customers on deeper, more involved measures – such as controls, process improvements and retrocomissioning. At the same time, the conversation is shifting from pure energy efficiency to energy optimization as technological advances and policy are bringing things like demand management, transportation electrification, distributed generation and storage to the forefront, and customers are looking to energy experts to help them figure out how all of these pieces can work together for them.

To put it simply, the conversation is no longer as simple as screwing in a lightbulb. To make progress on these various fronts, program administrators will need to figure out how to translate them into coherent, targeted offers aligned with different value propositions for different customer segments.

Ensuring that everyone benefits, and everyone is part of the solution

As in many other industries, the topic of environmental justice and equitable distribution of energy savings and benefits received renewed attention in 2020, and I see that continuing into 2021. When we think about customer engagement, this means engaging all customers,  especially those with a higher energy burden. We’ve done some work to identify the barriers to engaging renters, low- to moderate-income customers and customers who speak languages other than English, but how do we translate the insights gained into meaningful progress and results? And how do we make sure the green workforce delivering those results is representative of all customers as well? No one can tackle these issues on their own. This will require a multidisciplinary approach which includes using equity as a tool to service more customers through continued engagement from various stakeholders including utilities, regulators, and the communities themselves to ensure that progress is made through collective investment to reach all customers.

These are the topics and trends that are top of mind for me as we head into the new year, but I’m just one person. What are you expecting to see in the energy industry in 2021? Let me know in the comments.

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Rami Reshef's picture
Rami Reshef on Jan 17, 2021

At the same time, the conversation is shifting from pure energy efficiency to energy optimization as technological advances and policy are bringing things like demand management, transportation electrification, distributed generation and storage to the forefront, and customers are looking to energy experts to help them figure out how all of these pieces can work together for them.

Thanks for your insights Tilak, these challenges are certainly top of mind for most power providers, and balancing the need to provide sufficient power to meet these challenges while in parallel aiming to slash carbon emissions is no simple task.  It will require a composite approach involving many different clean generation sources alongside energy efficiency measures - and all this is still before accounting for whatever will be the final impacts of the Corona pandemic on our economy, our energy market and our society. So we can imagine that 2021 will be a year of caution and adjustments - let's just make sure to keep our eyes on our long-term objectives so that we don't lose sight of them while we aim at resolving short-term challenges. 

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