Guest Interview With Mike Barber of MISO

How long have you worked at MISO?
I’ve been with MISO for two and a half years.

What is your role at MISO?
My job title is Demand Response Advisor in our Resource Adequacy department. As Demand Response Advisor, my role consists of steady communications with our stakeholders regarding how their demand response programs can participate in MISO markets. Most programs participating in MISO’s markets are emergency based, so proportionately my efforts focus on the registration, performance expectations, and verification of these resources under the terms of our Resource Adequacy mechanisms.

Demand response also participates in our Energy and Operating Reserve markets, and as an emergency only (no capacity) resource as EDR (Emergency Demand Response), so I also assist participants in these areas as well.

MISO has numerous stakeholder groups. One is specifically dedicated to demand response. The Demand Response Working Group works to identify new opportunities and any barriers or issues that might affect participation in our markets, so I interact regularly with this group.

Finally, I represent MISO on several Smart Grid initiatives and working groups.

How long have you been involved in demand side activities?
The first 26 years of my career were with a regulated utility in its customer service and support areas. Although wholesale demand response is a relatively new concept in the Midwest, retail demand response has long been a principle effort in this part of the country. The purpose was not always intended to roll up to a wholesale level with a program per se, but rather to meet other drivers such as efficiency, electric rate relief, delayed generation construction, etc. So, in many ways my entire career has had an element of demand response.

What challenges have you faced as a DR professional within your organization and within the industry?
Wholesale demand response is still somewhat in its infancy in the Midwest, so as with any new opportunity, the challenges really are attributed to relative “newness” of the idea. A significant amount of our participating demand response originated from legacy programs in regulated environments. As such, there is some massaging required either to the program or to one of MISO’s market mechanisms in order to facilitate participation. Those nuances always present some level of challenge.

At MISO, we really do not face “challenges” per se related to demand response as all of our markets have been developed to facilitate DR participation, but there is a balance as it relates to the markets in general. Demand response is the “new kid” in wholesale energy markets and therefore, faces challenges in all markets as it attempts to compete against established players. While that challenge isn’t exclusive to demand response, electric markets at the wholesale level deal in very high volumes with tight margins and a relatively low return when you scale it back to an end user in a single program. I believe that is one of the most significant challenges that “robust” demand response faces in the industry.

What changes have you seen in the industry as it relates to DR and EE over the last few years?
Certainly the interest level has been the biggest change over the past few years. As the economy struggles, consumers want to get the most value from their assets. At the same time, our nation’s political leaders continue to push for energy independence, so it really is a perfect match from a timing standpoint.

For example, recent public policy decisions have offered heavy incentives in order to promote or “kick start” demand response efforts. I think this attention has added to the momentum, especially at the retail level where the return on investment is much more visible to the end user verses a wholesale return. So, the attention to this area will undoubtedly lead to continued innovation and opportunity for demand response and energy efficiency in the marketplace.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenge with implementing DR in the next decade?
I think there are a few significant hurdles rather than a single hurdle. I think the first hurdle is consumer interest/education. Without consumers understanding and trusting these programs and the associated technologies, they will always be challenged to maximize their potential. The “early adopters” are willing to accept some inconveniences and hurdles, but the general public may be less likely to latch onto demand response initiatives for the long haul.

Second, I think baby steps are critical to long-term success. Although there are some opportunities out there on the wholesale level, I believe the vast majority of smart grid, energy efficiency, and demand response ideas and products probably need to be initiated at the local or retail level where these programs can work out the kinks, continue to refine product offerings, and build a successful track record. The industry will then be more likely and capable to evaluate the next steps to fully incorporate DR at the wholesale level. This is a normal cycle, and we have participants who have successfully followed this roadmap. I do see a trend where certain concepts or products want to skip this development phase and jump right in at a wholesale level.

What advice or guidance would you give to young professionals who are considering a career in demand response and smart grid?
I think the first message that I would convey is that this industry has a tremendous upside on the developing landscape. Everyone would like to see the country achieve energy independence, and DR and EE will certainly be instrumental pieces of that puzzle.

The other advice is seizing the opportunity to educate consumers on embracing the new technologies. There is a stigma around some of the necessary ingredients of DR and EE, such as “smart” metering. The success of any program will rest on investing the resources necessary to quell the push back through education rather than mandates. Consumer education will promote buy-in and technologies that minimize the impacts felt by the consumer are key areas to focus on in order to maximize the potential that DR and EE bring to the table.

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