House of Representatives energy committee
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House of Representative energy committeeThe US House of Representative's Energy & Commerce Committee this week held a hearing with utilities, energy technology companies and research organizations to seek opinion on how America can transition towards a smart grid.

The one-day session on March 4, '21st Century Electricity Challenge: Ensuring a Secure, Reliable and Modern Electricity System', looked at how new advanced grid technologies and big data energy analytics can help build a more modern and flexible electricity system.

C3 energy chairman and CEO Thomas M. Siebel was one of seven witnesses at the hearing, including DEKA Research & Development Corporation, Alevo Energy, Enphase Energy, Gridco systems, Alstom Grid and Lakeland Electric.

Mr Siebel spoke about the opportunities for utilities presented by cloud computing models such as Software as a Service to increase processing speeds and power, better manage on-demand surge capacity and cut costs through scale.

However, Siebel said the US regulatory treatment of cloud computing models has not kept pace to take advantage of this technology opportunity, and utilities are faced with undue consequences when selecting a cloud computing offering because the current rate recovery rules.

"Because our technology produces far more savings than it costs, it does not need any financial assistance from the government to succeed. But that success will occur much faster if regulatory obstacles are removed, and state regulators support a model rule to allow rate recovery from modern cloud computing solutions.”

Local level grid control

Joel Ivy, general manager at Lakeland Electric, spoke about the need for local power utilities to maintain control of energy decisions.

Mr Ivy said Lakeland Electric, which is a member of the American Public Power Association, said both firmly believe that decisions about deployment of smart grid technologies and distributed energy should be made at the local level (for public power systems) and state level for investor-owned utilities (and rural electric cooperatives, where applicable).

Speaking on advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), Lakeland did a full deployment in February 2013 based on a smart grid investment grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) in 2009.

Ivy said: "Using new graphic-based tools, our system operators are able to spot problems on our circuits well before our customers notify us of outages, and more effectively determine the number of utility employees needed to remedy the problem. Another enhancement that this has allowed is our “integrated systems” team to automatically notify customers by text messages if their residences or businesses have power outages.

He added: "This is an “opt in” program for our customers, and has been very well received by those who have chosen to take advantage of the service."

Economic impact of US grid modernization

The subcommittee held another session this week, titled '21st Century Energy Markets: How the Changing Dynamics of World Energy Markets Impact our Economy and Energy Security', aimed to assess how modernizing the grid could affect the US economy, jobs and consumers. Later this month, the hearings will focus on the theme of 'Environmental Protection Agency's Proposed 111(d) Rule for Existing Power Plants: Legal and Cost Issues'.

Republican Ed Whitfield, chairman of the sub committee, said: “Next month we will begin to lay the foundation to build the Architecture of Abundance while continuing our aggressive oversight of EPA’s regulatory agenda.

"These discussions will help us gain a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing America’s energy sector so we can work to better maximize and preserve the benefits of our abundant resources.”