“Policies Will Be the Game-Changers”

Jon Wellinghoff offers insights on microgrid policy development

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At this year’s HOMER International Microgrid Conference, industry leaders and policy makers will gather to develop goals, financial models, and policy objectives that help drive the industry forward. Distributed Energy magazine is proud to co-present this enriching event. Jon Wellinghoff, CEO and founder of GridPolicy Inc., is one of the conference’s highly anticipated keynote speakers.

Wellinghoff is known for his expertise and thought leadership in energy policy and the interface of disruptive energy systems with traditional utility structures. He works to remove regulatory, policy, and institutional barriers to the widespread adoption of cost-effective distributed energy resource technologies and systems, assisting companies, governments, and consumers who market and/or operate such resources.

In 2006, Wellinghoff received his first of two Presidential appointments to serve as a Commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and was FERC’s longest serving Chairman (2009–2013). During his FERC tenure, he led efforts to make the US power system cleaner and more efficient by promoting and integrating renewable energy, demand response, energy efficiency, and storage.

We recently reached out to Mr. Wellinghoff for his perspectives on microgrid policy development and industry momentum. We’re honored to share his insights here:

Distributed Energy (DE):  What is the most exciting microgrid project that you’ve learned about recently?

Jon Wellinghoff

Jon Wellinghoff, CEO and Founder, GridPolicy Inc.

Jon Wellinghoff (JW):  The most exciting microgrid project publicized to date is the Brooklyn Microgrid. That project has signed up residents and businesses to a trading platform allowing “proconsumers” who produce excess energy from distributed generation such as solar PV to sell excess electricity credits from their systems to buyers who are part of the system in the neighborhood. It is the first instance of local financial transactional exchanges occurring from a distributed microgrid. It is the precursor for distributed energy markets that will unleash the full potential of distributed energy resources and microgrids in this country. 

DE:  Are there specific technologies on the horizon that might be game changers?

JW:  No. Technologies will not be game-changers. Policies will. We have access and availability to the technologies necessary to enable microgrid systems to be operationally functional and efficient. Of course, control technologies and integration and optimization software could be and will continually be improved. But the biggest game changer will be policy. And we are seeing advances at the federal level at FERC with Order 819 on Energy Storage. We are also seeing advances at the state distribution grid level with proposals like the recent DC Council proposed bill to create a DER Authority to oversee DER investments. 

DE:  Are there policy initiatives that are either holding microgrids back or are helping them advance?

JW:  The primary policies that are holding microgrids back are those state jurisdictional requirements that preserve retail energy service monopolies to the exclusion of retail competition in the electric sector. To the extent that we continue to permit retail electric monopolies to exclusively provide retail electric service in monopoly franchise service territories, microgrids will not flourish. Until policies are in place to permit consumers the opportunity to choose what energy services they wish to procure and from whom and to whom they wish to exchange or sell such energy services, then microgrids will stagnate and be primarily “demonstration” projects in perpetuity. But changing policies to allow free transactional exchanges of energy services between willing sellers and buyers will unleash the potential of microgrids for all consumers, making them more financially viable and affordable. 

DE:  What do you see as the future of microgrids? What are the next steps in the technology’s evolution?

JW:  The future depends on us and our ability to get legislators and regulators to put the policies in place that will provide the financial infrastructure necessary to enable microgrids to be economically cost effective. 

The HOMER International Microgrid Conference will take place October 8–10 in San Diego, CA. For more information or to attend, please visit www.microgridconference.com.

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