NewEnergyNews: ORIGINAL REPORTING: Smart Utilities Move With The Times

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    Wednesday, October 13, 2021

    ORIGINAL REPORTING: Smart Utilities Move With The Times

    As utilities risk missing carbon reduction targets, analysts stress need for organizational change; Separate studies indicate utility culture change can make unfulfilled emissions reduction promises real.

    Herman K. Trabish, July 1, 2021 (Utility Dive)

    Editor’s note: The problem with changing utilities internally is that their unceasing work to keep the lights on leaves little time for introspection.

    A growing number of utilities have ambitious energy transition goals but many fall short of their ambitions and a new Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) initiative asks why.

    By April 2021, at least 73 U.S. utilities serving 71% of customer accounts had emissions reduction goals and at least 51 had net zero emissions by 2050 goals, according to SEPA's survey. But "much work remains" to reach the goals. Only 18% of utilities surveyed have over 50% penetrations of the variable and distributed renewables that will fuel "a carbon-free future," SEPA reported.

    "Utilities can make any public commitment, but this initiative details the steps they are taking toward those commitments," SEPA Chief Strategy Officer Sharon Allan said. "Transformation is about making investments in people, processes, technologies and alignment with customers to build a modern foundation for carbon reductions, because you can't get to 'clean' without 'modern.'"

    In a parallel assessment, Sierra Club's January analysis called electric utilities "the cornerstone of economy-wide decarbonization" but found that many "fall far short" of meeting their decarbonization pledges.

    "People at utilities are not climate deniers, but they continue to operate in ways that show they cannot see a future without fossil fuels," said Sierra Club electric sector analyst and paper co-author Cara Bottorff. "Regulators need to ask more questions about utilities' reporting and be ready to tell them there are better options."

    Utilities' actual progress toward higher renewables penetrations and explicit commitments to emissions reductions are important first steps, both groups agreed. But accountability in utilities' organizational cultures can make those commitments more than just half-fulfilled promises, SEPA added… click here for more

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