Guest Interview with Ben Boyd of EnerNex

   How long have you worked at EnerNex?
I have been a regulatory professional for many years.  For example, I attended Camp NARUC in
    1979 when I was on the regulatory staff of the Texas natural gas regulatory agency.  I have
    worked for two regulatory agencies, two natural gas utilities, two smart grid metering
    communications companies, a municipal G & D utility, and an independent power producer.  I
    have known my boss, Erich Gunther, since he started working on the Smart Metering Roadmap
    project for SCE a few years back.  In 2008, after EnerNex was chosen to facilitate the Illinois
    Statewide Smart Grid Collaborative, at the end of the first session, I just happened to ride with him
    on the train to catch a redeye flight at O’Hare back home and told him I would like to try working
    from his side of the dais instead of my side because it sure looked like a lot more fun than what I was currently having.  Shortly thereafter, several things happened to cause me to have to make a change.  I called Erich and joined EnerNex in July of 2010.

What is your role at EnerNex?
I joined EnerNex as their first Vice President of Regulatory/Policy.  EnerNex was formed in 2003 and did not have this position prior to my hiring. I have profit-loss and management responsibility for the Smart Grid Engineering Group Regulatory Department.  I have broad business management functional responsibilities including marketing, business development, and budgeting and resource allocation.  My smart grid experience is coupled with many years of rate making and regulatory policy experience, including work on legislative issues, expert testimony filings, and constant interaction with state and federal commissions/agencies, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

Since coming to EnerNex, I have been responsible for regulatory business development in accordance with designing the collateral, presenting on sales calls, and working with the marketing director on advertising campaigns and trade shows.  I also enjoy frequently speaking as a panelist or moderator at various trade and regulatory conferences, writing white papers and blogs, and participating in smart grid consumer awareness activities.  I oversee and conduct studies based upon regulatory work in the smart grid arena, design regulator educational seminars and workshops for road maps with clients in accordance with regulatory compliance in smart grid, and can assist clients with rate cases.  Since September 2010, I was chosen to be the NIST Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) Administrator Liaison to the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners (NARUC) because of my long association with the NARUC membership and management team.  In this role I provide the communication bridge between the complex utility technology standards community and the utility regulatory federal and state communities.  

How long have you been involved in demand side activities?
I first heard of demand side activities in the 1980’s when the concept of demand side management (DSM) came into the regulatory policy picture.  It was about energy efficiency and peak load management back then.   Keep in mind, what we refer to loosely today as “demand response” is actually a different variation of DSM called price responsive demand side management (PRDSM).  Today PRDSM has evolved into far more complex schemes than existed 30 years ago.  The first programs involving PRDSM, which I will call DR for the sake of simplicity were 1) curtailment pricing schemes and 2) dynamic pricing schemes to lower consumption during peak times.  While at Atmos Energy, years ago, I was involved for several months back in the 1990s as the project manager of a DSM program focused on weatherizing homes for a natural gas utility in Kentucky. It was interesting to learn how much people don’t know about how to avoid wasting energy.  

What challenges have you faced as a DR professional within your organization and within the industry?
Challenges – yes there have been challenges, but not insurmountable ones.  In order to have an effective price responsive demand side management program, the consumer needs to have the ability to know what the price is in enough time to act on it, BEFORE they have to pay the bill.  In order to do that, the old paradigm of reading (or estimating) the meter at the end of a 30 day cycle and then billing the consumer must change.  That is a challenge in and of itself. But it is changing – very slowly.  However, this key shift in the utility business model is in practice, a barrier to DR adoption.  You have to know the price to be able to react to the price.  Most consumers do not have that opportunity. Yet. 

Another challenge, that is being dealt with and eventually will be solved in the near future, is this: Consumers, utilities, and still, many regulators lack basic knowledge and understanding about how DR works, how it can help, and why it is good for the folks in their jurisdiction and generally the  U.S.  Organizations like the Demand Response Smart Grid Coalition, Association for Demand Response & Smart Grid, the Smart Response Collaborative, and FERC continue to deliver educational messages.  It is a slow process but it is having some success. 

Another challenge is what is called “the resistance to change factor.”  We have all heard the tired old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  That might hold true for water wells in West Texas, but in the dynamic and sophisticated world of the electric industry today, it is pure nonsense.  Plan on fixing it before someone orders you to do it, is what I would advise. 

The lack of planning is another challenge.  In my opinion, until every state has a smart grid roadmap that includes a demand response policy, the DR message is going to go unheeded and the challenges and barriers will continue. 

Another challenge is the misguided notion that smart meters are the smart grid.  Smart meters are enabling tools which empower the consumer with the ability to make knowledgeable decisions regarding energy usage choices.  Couple the smart meter with a home area network or similar consumer interactive device such as a web-based consumption analytics software tool, and consumers are light years ahead of where they were just 5 years go.   The smart grid is not a smart meter installation.  It is a concept that is a system of automated systems, from generation to toaster, that includes smart meters.  And much, much more.

What changes have you seen in the industry as it relates to DR and EE over the last few years?
Peak load shaving systems in New Jersey and Florida were around 30-35 years ago. You could get a $5.00 - $10.00 monthly discount for letting the utility “hit the button” to take your AC off line for 10-15 minutes when necessary.  You could also disconnect the button yourself and still get the discount without being “inconvenienced” if you were dishonest, according to one of my friends, a former Commissioner in N.J.  One major change is that today we have non-utility companies that can aggregate and resell loads for a profit by taking full advantage of DR programs offered by RTO/ISOs.  Regarding energy efficiency, we also see energy management companies, like Johnson Controls, making great inroads in raising the energy efficiency rate of organizations like school districts, municipal government building complexes and other heating/cooling big load users.  Most significant of changes in my opinion is the passage of EPACT 2005, EISA 2007, and ARRA 2009 by the U.S. government.  These are significant changes to our national energy policy and they put a spotlight on DR and energy efficiency.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenge with implementing DR in the next decade?
That is a good question.  One challenge which affects the implementation of DR in the future is how we pursue energy security.  It is just a theory I like to call “Energy Quest.”  If our energy security efforts were changed from a foreign military action solution to an internal energy supply focus policy, I believe we would have the sustainable positive effect on our supply side dynamics.  To be more succinct, if money were poured into solving our energy security crisis through the development of alternate energy supplies, and delivery mechanisms like wind farms, fuel cells, solar banks, and the transportation lines to move the energy, like it has been poured into military exercises in the Middle East, our supply side would eclipse our demand side.  DR will always be needed in order to achieve the maximum in our efficiency levels.  If Energy Quest is just wishful thinking on my part, I see DR continuing to drift until another event like the oil embargo in the 1970s happens again.  If predictions are true regarding the U.S. becoming the second largest energy user in the world (as early as 2015 according to an article on December 2, by SmartGrid-CI), the cost of energy security goes up faster than most folks realize.  The article points out that by 2035, China will use 70% more energy than the U.S.  The bigger challenge is this:  what happens when DR is not enough to meet peak demand?

What advice or guidance would you give to young professionals who are considering a career in demand response and smart grid?
Almost anyone can have a career in DR or the smart grid.  I have heard that the smart grid will be developing for the next 20 years. Perhaps so, but only if the U.S. develops sustainable energy security policies and puts them in place in the immediate future.  Given a timely positive outcome of this dilemma, my advice to someone just entering the educational process, assuming this is an entry move, is to decide what your strengths are and what talent you have, then match it to something you are passionate about.  For instance, my experience has been, if you like to travel, a metering communication or software company will provide you an opportunity to travel 80% of your waking hours.  People working in the DR and smart grid arena right now are sales staff, engineers, regulatory people, consumer advocates, writers, marketers, scientists, computer geeks, etc.  The smart grid concept is an evolution, not a revolution.   What is needed in the future may not be what was needed in the past. Probably the one thing the smart grid development process needs that, given the energy security circumstance, it cannot afford is … patience.  The world of electricity, overall, is becoming increasingly more competitive – and I’m not just talking about electricity as a commodity. Act with urgency and be a little early rather than move slowly and risk failing completely.  

To learn more about EnerNex, please visit their website.

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