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Changing the Narrative: Why SEPA’s Power Players Awards Matter

Most Americans take electricity for granted. It may not be quite as essential as the air we breathe, but it is, in fact, the virtual lifeblood of our economy and daily lives, and we expect it to be there when we flip a switch or plug in a device.

Keeping the lights, computers and other devices on means that every day, across the entire electric power sector, thousands of individuals and companies are working — sometimes in extremely difficult or dangerous situations — to deliver safe, reliable, affordable and clean power.

And most of them go unnoticed.

The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) first established our utility awards in 2005 because we wanted to raise the visibility of our industry’s unsung innovators and leaders, and help change the narrative about the U.S. energy transition, then just gaining momentum. From the beginning we sought out the companies and individuals who were getting in front of the trends and technologies that are transforming our power system. They had experience to share, good stories to tell, and, most important, were creating new projects, programs and policies that others could replicate or adapt to their own local markets.

2016 Public Power Utility of the Year award winner, Village of Minster, with Julia Hamm, SEPA President and CEO following the awards ceremony during Solar Power International in Las Vegas.

In the past 12 years, award winners have included some of the nation’s largest and smallest utilities.  In 2005, Pacific Gas & Electric was one of our first two winners, recognized for installing 51 percent of the 51 megawatts of solar electric systems that came online in the U.S. in 2004. Meanwhile, in 2016, the Village of Minster, Ohio, a town of less than 3,000, become our Public Power Utility of the year, and an industry leader, for an innovative solar-plus-storage project.

The awards have also evolved with the industry. The players guiding and working towards the clean energy future have multiplied, roles have changed and impacts are occurring in any number of ways, from any number of places. The energy transformation is simultaneously expanding and converging, so SEPA has altered our annual awards accordingly.

Our first awards, the Solar Business Achievement Awards were given in two categories, Public Awareness and Industry Leadership and Development of a Sustainable Solar Business Plan. The program name remained until 2011 even as the categories morphed, becoming Investor-owned, Public Power and Electric Cooperative Utility of the Year, Innovative Partner of the Year and CEO of the Year. In 2015, the awards became the Solar Power Players, and CEO of the Year changed into Solar Champion.

This year, reflecting the scope of change in our industry, we have again tweaked the name and awards categories. Nominations for this year’s SEPA Power Players Awards include our traditional utility and innovative partner awards, plus Power Player of the Year — formerly Solar Champion. We are also inaugurating two new awards this year: Change Agent and Visionary.

While recognizing the role of utilities in industry evolution remains a core purpose of the SEPA Power Players Awards, it does not capture the full scope of the transformation. Change isn’t occurring in siloed projects. A resilient, reliable and flexible grid requires a varied and responsive mix of distributed energy resources (DERs). The people and groups working to realize this vision range from those literally putting metal in the ground to those developing the visionary proposals of deploying DERs based on locational value and advancements in data collection and analysis.

And these advances are not always made by or with utilities.

I came into the awards process entirely a newbie, with no background in the electricity or utility industries. This is my second year coordinating the program, and I can say, happily, my learning curve has been steep, but very fast. I am already diving into nominations we have received thus far, getting excited about geeky technical details others might not even notice. I’m also looking forward to working with the judges panel, evaluating the nominations, which is kind of like having my own personal industry webinar filled with expert insights.

At a time when the roles and relationships of utilities, technology developers, regulators and customers are evolving at high speed and in unexpected directions, the need to document, tell and publicize our stories has never been more important. Going forward, industry stakeholders need clear, unbiased information and recognized models for collaboration and innovation. Equally critical, Americans need to understand how and why their electricity system is changing, and the essential role the grid and utilities will continue to play.

We need your help to tell this story.

Nominations for the SEPA Power Player Awards are now open, and individuals and companies are encouraged to nominate themselves or others via our simple, 2-page nomination form. All entries must be submitted to SEPA no later than Friday, March 24, 2017 by midnight EST. Winners will be honored at an awards dinner scheduled for Wednesday July 26, at SEPA’s Grid Evolution Summit – A National Town Meeting in Washington, D.C.

For more information, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions or contact me at cstlaurent@sepapower.org.

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