Welcome Brett Feldman: New Expert in the Load Management Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]
- Apr 6, 2021 1:42 pm GMT
When it comes to the quickly changing utility space, it’s more important than ever to be listening to the experts on what directly the sector is moving and what should be done to keep pace. That necessity is why Energy Central puts such attention and care into curating our Network of Experts, bringing to Community Members the voices you’ll most want to listen to on important topics.
Today, I’m happy to welcome to that Network of Experts Brett Feldman, Research Director at Guidehouse. Brett has graciously agreed to be one of our resident experts in the Energy Central Load Management Group, and his experience across various parts of the utility industry have primed him to really speak to what’s happening in the space of demand response, load management, DERs, and more.
To help you understand what’s informing Brett’s expert perspective as he shares posts, resources, and comments across the Energy Central community, he joined me as a part of the Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’
Matt Chester: Let’s kick things off with an introduction. How did you get involved with the utility industry in the first place, and what do you do in this space today?
Brett Feldman: I’ve been interested in environmental issues since high school when I started a recycling club. For my undergrad degree, I made my own environmental economics program, since that didn’t actually exist. My first professional experience was on the consulting side of the industry, working for the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency on Energy Star standards. Then I went back to school and made my own energy MBA program, which also didn’t exist at the time, after which I went out to California in the aftermath of the Enron crisis, helping the utilities prevent blackouts through demand response programs.
I got a few years on the utility side of the table as an energy efficiency program manager at Eversource, and then I moved to the deregulated side at Constellation, where I led demand response bidding in the nascent wholesale markets like PJM, NYISO, and ISO-NE.
I’ve been at Navigant/Guidehouse for the past seven years performing market research and consulting for utilities and clean energy vendors on distributed energy resources and the energy transition.
MC: Your career has taken you across different organizations, both utilities and utility-supporting, and provided you what I’m sure is a well-rounded view of the world of load management, demand response, and DERs generally over time. As you’ve observed the developments in this space in the past 10-15 years, what’s surprised you most about the direction it’s ended up going?
BF: When I started 20+ years ago, the energy industry was a pretty boring space. It hadn’t really changed for 100 years, and there was no real clue that it would change in the near future. A lot of people worked at the same place for their whole career in the utilities, oil & gas, and consulting spaces, and they looked forward to retirement.
But in the last 10 years, that has totally changed. With the cost of renewables and storage dropping precipitously and a greater global emphasis on climate change, the old guard is threatened and needs to either change or risk being replaced. They need to reconsider their business models and viability in the next 10 years or fewer. New blood is needed from younger people getting into the space with new skills, as there will be a large wave of retirements in the coming years. Elon Musk has made energy seem like a cool place to work, like Steve Jobs did for tech years ago.
MC: With that in mind, how do you see demand response and utility programs in this space to evolve moving forward?
BF: They have to become more like consumer products that people are used to purchasing these days. More customer control and choice is desired. The concept of Bring Your Own Thermostat/Battery/Device (BYOT/BYOB/BYOB) is taking hold, rather than utilities dictating what customers will use. They have to be integrated with smart phones and smart speakers. Energy storage and electric vehicles are becoming integrated into DR programs to make them more flexible and cause less customer discomfort. There will be more integration between retail and wholesale markets as FERC Order 2222 takes effect.
MC: In your role at Guidehouse, you’re able to research and investigate what different utilities and other stakeholders are doing in this load management space. When you look at the utilities that are more advanced than others in this respect, are there any common characteristics or tendencies that you find a good predictor of that advancement? What’s making some leaders in the space while others trail behind?
BF: Building on the last question, utilities have to look from the customer side of the meter back to the grid side, rather than the traditional other way around. There are so many DER choices for customers these days, but you can’t just throw a restaurant menu of options out and expect them to choose the best mix for them. You have to create bundled solutions to meet different needs, whether it be comfort, cost, sustainability, or others. This is what we call Integrated DER (IDER) programs. Another aspect is the role of third parties. Utilities can’t look at third party providers as competitors or threats; rather as partners in creating these customer solutions. This includes partnerships across sectors like transportation, telecom, and high tech, as all these realms converge.
MC: What’s the main takeaway you hope you can impart to the Energy Central community as our newest expert? What value do you hope to bring to the community?
BF: I use any pulpit I get to hammer home the message about thinking from the customer perspective, whether it’s utilities, vendors, regulators, or for my own company. That’s how successful consumer companies and products grow, and we in the energy industry have to put our products and ideas in those terms to get mass adoption. Otherwise, it will just be a niche solution that won’t achieve the scale needed for real change. I am happy to talk to people about how to break out of the traditional command and control mindset that most in the industry are used to.
MC: Great! Well, I’ll give you the last word. Any last piece of advice for those reading?
BF: We need to consider the role we can play in increasing inclusion and diversity in the energy industry and how we can address environmental justice issues. DERs have a great role to play in democratizing energy and giving opportunities for more local control, and also provide a chance to bring new people into the picture that the old large-scale centralized system was hard to break into.
Thanks to Brett Feldman for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights and expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Brett will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.
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