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I lost power in my condo yesterday in an intense rainstorm and I wondered if my phone and computer were charged enough, and if I’d have to be in the dark all night, reading by candlelight. It was a good reminder to be grateful for the electricity we in developed countries take for granted every day when we flip on the light switch, or turn on our computers or phones. There are 1.1 billion people on the planet with no electricity, and thousands in hurricane alley endure this disruption and much, much worse every year.
Energy is the lifeblood of the economy, because, without it everything literally stops. That’s why the utility sector is considered a public stewardship.
That’s also why the bumper cars of three conflicting trends the U.S. energy sector faces today have potentially massive disruptive consequences for our daily lives and every aspect of the economy:
- One trend is a tug-of-war between the Trump administration’s attempts to roll back as many environmental protections as it can, and the environmentalists’ attempts to stop them at every turn by leveraging the legal system and public advocacy.
- Another trend is rapid and transformative innovation in the energy sector with many new “raw materials,” technologies and business models that need to be integrated into this crucial, capital-intensive industry with long time horizons and tight regulations. Utilities have to follow a lengthy and public approval process for almost any moves.
- The third trend is the intensifying, destructive and expensive consequences of climate change we are personally experiencing and seeing every day, from extreme weather to wildfires, and the public’s increasing pressure to do something about it and fast.
Add a fourth bumper car of the intentionally slow regulatory framework run by the government our Founders Fathers gave us, and political gridlock in Washington, DC that blocks any progress, and you have either an opportunity for ground-breaking innovation, or functional chaos.
I sat down with energy policy expert Christi Tezak, Managing Director of ClearView Energy Partners with 20+ years in the business, for some perspective on this chaos. Here are the three game-changers in the industry today she said to watch, according to Tezak:
- The shift in focus and conversation from regulating carbon to decarbonization. “There’s no more half-way,” she added.
- Who votes and how many of them in the 2020 election. We know polls are often wrong lately (across the globe), so we don’t really know until the votes are in and counted.
- Who wins the 2020 presidential election. “If the Democrats continue the momentum they had in 2018,” Tezak explained, “and the next president is not the incumbent, we can see, instead of a pendulum swing towards cleaner, greener technology and environmental policy, we could see a catapult. It could be a very big shift… even if energy and environment are not central issues in the campaign.”
Being an innovator in an industry that is so capital-intensive, has such a long time horizon, and is so highly regulated can be very frustrating, Tezak said, especially if you think you have a viable solution to a big and urgent challenge.
But when it’s a public good, as power is considered to be, that pace is by design. Technologies need to be fully tested and the public needs time to comment on their direct impact. Or else, that shiny new technology might blow up your home, or blow out a whole area’s power.
“When it comes to what fuels our economy,” Tezak told me, “it literally transfers into everything we touch, see, do, eat, moves over our heads, etc… So, what you have here is a real tension between the need for public stewardship and the need to pursue innovation.”
May 31, 2019 at 01:05PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs