Recently, I had the honor and privilege to speak at the 13th Annual Electric Power Industry Conference (EPIC) in Pittsburgh and covered an overview of some of the key challenges and opportunities facing our industry today. The list of topics ranged from defecting customers, including those anticipating or doing their own production with microgrids and distributed energy resources (DER) to aging workforce.
DER is setting an explosive pace as a significant source of our grid. According to the Energy Information Agency (EIA) nearly 17% of generation comes from renewable resources. According to the Solar Electric Industry Association (SEIA), 29% of all new electric generation capacity brought on line in the first half of 2018 came from solar PV. Although residential PV growth has “stabilized” and has had a flat growth, community solar is gaining momentum, due in part by initiatives led by Minnesota and Massachusetts. Utility PV is still the largest segment with nearly 1.2 GW(dc) coming on line in 2Q 2018 and accounts for 55% of the installed solar capacity installed.
In the case of the workforce issue, it is estimated that 25% of the current energy industry workforce will retire in 5 years. This last statistic is further compounded as highlighted in the Jan 2017 survey of the US Energy and Employment Report that points out that the most significant reasons for hiring difficulty in the utility industry is “Insufficient qualifications, certification and education” (61% of respondents).
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given our energy infrastructure a D+ Grade in their 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, citing the fact that: “Much of the U.S. Energy system predates the turn of the 21 century. Most of the electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950’s and 1960’s with a 50 year life expectancy.”
With these two topics as bookends, it is clear that our key resources, both in terms of technology and skills capability are in the state of significant transformation.