Just weeks after announcing plans to build an innovative solar/storage project in Rutland, VT, Green Mountain Power is at it again. On Tuesday, the company—whose motto is to be the “best small utility in America’’—unveiled a partnership with NRG Energy that may be the first step toward creating a new utility business model for the future—one that embraces distributed generation and customer involvement.
The GMP-NRG partnership will focus initially on Rutland as well, but the companies have much bigger goals in mind once the 2015 rollout is completed, planning to expand throughout the Green Mountain state and serve, in essence, as a template for the electric utility of the future.
“This partnership is a really big deal for our customers and for Vermont,” said Mary Powell, GMP’s president and CEO. “Our customers consistently tell us they want tools to save money and move to renewable energy sources, and we can show the rest of the country how to get there. This is what our energy future looks like.”
David Crane, president and CEO of NRG, seconded Powell’s prediction. “Through this partnership, we hope to demonstrate that investing in a 21st century energy eco-system that is more sustainable, resilient, affordable and individually empowering for the people of Vermont is more sensible than pouring more investment into the creaky old grid infrastructure from the 20th century.’’ Crane, an outspoken proponent of the need to change the existing electric utility structure, added: “In the course of so doing, we will also prove that the concepts of ‘electric utility’, ‘renewables’ and ‘personal choice’ are not mutually exclusive.”
The partnership’s offerings will cover the gamut, including:
—Home energy management. Participants will be able to remotely manage their energy use, potentially saving money by cutting their demand. In the future, customers also may be able to participate in formal demand response programs, in which they are paid a set amount for specific reductions in electricity use.
—Community solar. This enables business and residential customers unable/unwilling to site solar panels on their own buildings (such as a renter in an apartment complex) to buy solar electricity from a centrally sited community facility. Residential Solar Solutions (now NRG Home Solar) built just such a project in 2013 that now serves 50 residents and businesses in Rutland. NRG Home Solar is currently working on additional projects across the state.
—Micro-power. The partnership plans to offer micro-generation solutions to Vermonters, including NRG’s Beacon 10—a natural gas-fired in-home generator capable of producing up to 10 kilowatts of electricity, provide heat for water and space heating, and offer battery storage and solar integration capability with onsite solar systems. Crane has previously called the Beacon 10 “the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’’ If the unit works as hoped (hyped?) it truly could set the stage for an upheaval in the electric utility business model.
—Microgrids. The partners intend to move beyond today’s centrally dispatched distribution grid system and toward a platform that uses solar and other technologies to boost reliability and resiliency.
—EV infrastructure. The partners, relying on NRG’s eVgo division, plan to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state, including Level 2 and fast charging units at commercial and workplace locations.
—NRG Portable Power. And in a nod to today’s smartphone-driven lifestyle, GMP said it also will begin offering NRG’s portable power solution to its customers. The power pack enables users to charge their phones on the go without needing access to an electric outlet.
All of these offerings may not pan out, but it will be fascinating to watch. The utility of the future may be taking shape in Vermont of all places.
“In the next 10 years, I hope that we will revolutionize energy by developing and implementing an economic off-the-grid product for consumers. Some of the pieces of the solution are here already, like increasingly economic rooftop solar. At NRG, we’re working to figure out the rest of the puzzle such as advances in energy storage, natural gas appliance technology and energy management systems. We’re making progress, and we can achieve a significant amount in a decade. It will take several iterations, and some failures along the way, but once we get it right, it will go viral, and change the world as we know it!”
—John Chillemi, president of NRG West, in a blog post on the NRG website