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The Top 5 Challenges on Midwest Utilities’ Minds

Chicago’s Utility Roundtable participants (listed front left to front right):
Julia Hamm (Smart Electric Power Alliance), May Farlinger (Alliant Energy), Rachel Henderson (Smart Electric Power Alliance), Richard Benedict (Indianapolis Power & Light), Cara Shaefer (City Utilities of Springfield, MI), Lisa Henderson (Alliant Energy), Lisa Richardson (Wabash Valley Power), and Hilary Pearson (Commonwealth Edison).

Representatives from several Midwestern electric utilities joined SEPA in Chicago for a Regional Utility Roundtable. Here are the top five challenges and opportunity areas they’re thinking about most:

  1. Making distributed energy resource (DER) interconnection accessible and fair: Some of the questions raised about DER integration included concerns about how to manage and allocate costs for customers whose photovoltaic (PV) system triggers the need for a system upgrade. Participating utilities also shared strategies for creating more customer-friendly interconnection processes, while remaining mindful of system needs.
  2. Battery storage market creating a new frontier for MISO: Indianapolis Power & Light Co.’s Richard Benedict discussed its 20 megawatt (MW) battery providing frequency response to the grid as its primary function. Launched in May 2016, it was the first grid-scale battery energy storage project and has successfully provided MISO with many benefits, in turn, increasing opportunities for energy storage deployment in this market.
  3. What comes first, electric vehicle (EV) adoption or charging stations? Alliant Energy’s May Farlinger and Lisa Henderson shared how following the installment of several charging stations in conjunction with a solar demonstration project at the company’s headquarters in Madison, WI, employee adoption of EVs increased significantly. The charging stations were being used so heavily by employees and customers, Alliant Energy developed an Electric Vehicle Rebate Program to help boost residential and workplace Level II charging infrastructure.
  4. Cooperative community solar in the Midwest: Wabash Valley Power’s Lisa Richardson educated participants on lessons learned from their “Co-op Solar” program and opportunities for additional community solar growth in the future. This program is unique in the aspect that Wabash Valley Power, a generation and transmission cooperative, partnered with their 23 distribution cooperative members in order to offer retail customers the opportunity to participate in community solar.
  5. Giving customers what they want with advanced metering infrastructure (AMI): Hilary Pearson, who works in Commonwealth Edison’s “Utility of the Future” division, touched on how changing customer expectations, particularly when engaging with utilities, has them looking for new ways to provide value to their customers. One approach Commonwealth Edison has developed is leveraging AMI data in order to improve the utility’s overall operations, ultimately increases customer satisfaction.

If you’re interested in peer-to-peer learning with other utilities contact Rachel Henderson at rhenderson@sepapower.org to suggest a Regional Utility Roundtable event in your area.

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