Trump Isn't The Biggest Threat To The Energy Revolution

Organizers of a panel Thursday on the future of the electric grid used a futuristic app to field audience questions. Not only could audience members submit questions on their smart phones, they could vote for questions they deemed most deserving.
Most submissions arrived anonymously, but one bore the name "Donald Trump."
"What's the biggest threat to grid modernization in the future?" this purported Donald asked. "What would stop it? (so I can write my next executive order)"
The question was quickly voted to the top of the queue. President Trump has threatened the energy revolution with a cost-recovery rule for coal and nuclear power. He has a chance to stunt its growth through a pending trade case. But the panelists agreed it was unlikely Trump can stop the development of a clean, intelligent electric system in the United States.
"The reason these conversations are happening now is because not only is the technology here, but there's a value proposition to these technologies," said Madeleine Klein of SoCore energy, a solar installer owned by Edison International. "So theoretically there's a threat to changing the value proposition for new technologies by swinging us back to the era of coal. I just don't think that's going to happen. We are too far along the road here for the fundamental trajectory of the value proposition to change at this point."
But that doesn't mean the energy revolution is a lock-in either.
The biggest threat faced by the new energy revolution, agreed the panelists at Solar Power Midwest in Chicago, is the need to reform regulations so they make room for new technologies while ensuring the survival of legacy players.
"My real feeling is that the biggest threat is just the size and the scope of this question that we're trying to solve," Klein said. "This has been years and years of intense discussion. It's tough to see where we're going to find the end of the road here. I think just the weight of the topic is the biggest challenge."
In the face of that challenge, looming separately now in each of the 50 states, there's a worry that regulators might surrender to Newton's First Law: a body at rest tends to remain at rest.
"Don't underestimate the momentum of doing nothing," said Andrew Barbeau, president of the consulting and innovation firm Accelerate. "It's exhausting to do work, it's challenging to do work, challenging to do something new and risk future costs and rate increases. It can just make regulators and others hold back."
Rick Umoff of the Solar Energy Industries Association has been observing regulatory reform efforts in New York. It's proving challenging for regulators there to find ways for new parties to enter electricity markets, he said, while simultaneously finding new revenue streams for old utilities.
"At some point we need real regulatory reform," Umoff said. "What's happening in New York right now is that the parties are getting exhausted."

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