Guest Interview with Chris Villarreal - California Public Utilities Commission

   How long have you worked at
   7 years

   What is your role at CPUC?
   I am a regulatory analyst with the Policy and Planning Division (PPD). PPD identifies emerging
   trends in the industry, and prepares research, briefings, and White Papers on emerging issues
   and the potential impact on the CPUC.

How long have you been involved in demand side activities?
Over 6 years.

What challenges have you faced as a professional working on DR and Smart Grid within your organization and within the industry?
Smart Grid is still thought of as the grid of the future, and with that comes concerns about costs and needs. 

What are the special challenges for regulators when it comes to dealing with new areas like demand response and smart grid?
Challenges include the pace of technological change.  For example, traditional utility investments assume a 20+ year life span, and can be recovered over a similar time period. With new technology, that life span can be shortened dramatically; the regulatory world will need to address these differences in planning assumptions as they review utility investments and business cases in their proceedings.

What changes have you seen in the industry as it relates to DR and traditional energy efficiency over the last few years?
Technology is not going to wait for the utility (or regulator) to make it to the customer. As new business opportunities develop where services can be provided directly to the customer, it will upset the traditional model of the regulated utility providing these services to customers; this will impact the utility business model and rate-making.

From your vantage point, what has surprised you in terms of how DR and Smart Grid have developed over the years as business and policy areas?
I have been surprised at the time it has taken to implement and embrace DR and Smart Grid. 

What do you expect to be the biggest challenge with expanding and implementing DR in the next decade?
To me, one of the biggest challenges is getting the customer to buy in to these services. A state could create the best market for DR (or EE) services, but if the customer does not engage or see a need for these services, then many EE and DR goals may be unmet. More research needs to be done to identify customer needs and desires, developing services to meet those needs, and awareness that multiple marketing strategies may be needed.

What advice or guidance would you give to young professionals who are considering a career in demand response and smart grid?
There is a need to understand policy development not only at the Federal level, but also at the state level, and being able to understand the implications of that policy on these areas. Regulators hold the keys to a utility implementing a technology or a program. I recommend engaging with regulators to hear their views, or participating in open meetings or workshops to provide your perspective. 

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