Attitude is everything. Many US utilities gaze wistfully in the rearview mirror, wishing for a return to the early days of electricity distribution when they controlled the source of supply, operated the local grid themselves, and collected a government guaranteed rate of return in return. Only a few US utilities are looking ahead to what the business of providing electricity will be, not what it has been in the past.
Green Mountain Power in Vermont is out on the cutting edge of the utility industry. It is not waiting for government mandates or renewable energy standards to cut its carbon emissions. Instead it has established its own goal of offering its customers nothing but zero emission electricity no later than 2030. It is already at nearly 60%.
“There is so much we can accomplish together in Vermont to cut carbon, and at the same time increase reliability for customers in the face of increasingly frequent and severe storms. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report makes clear, we have to act now, and take bold steps to cut carbon,” Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, said earlier this year.
Green Mountain Power (GMP) began offering Tesla Powerwalls to customers for a paltry $30 a month fee a few years ago, then followed that up with a plan that networked those Powerwalls into a virtual power plant that saved customers a half million dollars in peak demand charges during a heat wave last summer. Its latest move is creating a platform that will allow residential customers with rooftop solar systems to sell the electricity they generate directly to businesses for the first time in America.
Developed with LO3 Energy, the trading platform — called Pando — allows businesses to purchase renewable energy credits from other GMP customers. The program went live on December 2 and is currently limited to 50 businesses and 200 residential customers, but the plan is to make it available to more customers after the program is tested and all the kinks are worked out.
According to PV Magazine, the marketplace will be hosted on LO3 Energy’s platform. All transactions will be tracked and verified via blockchain, which allows individuals to transact privately but gives GMP the ability to closely monitor the RECs as they move through the marketplace. The blockchain tools could be used for other projects in the future.
Green Mountain Power will collect a 5% fee on all transactions, which will be paid by the seller of the renewable energy credits. But when the cost of selling RECs privately are taken into account, it believes customers will be money ahead with the new system. At present, REC sells for around 4 cents per kilowatt-hour in the New England ISO market.
One of the very cool things about the Pando platform is that it is app-based. Buyers and sellers connect via smartphone without involving the utility company directly, although GMP is able to monitor all transactions in the background to verify the system is operating correctly and all transactions are properly accounted for.
Kudos to Green Mountain Power, which already derives 90% of its electricity from sources other than coal, gas, or oil. In the field of electric cars, if you want to know what the future will be, look to Tesla. When it comes to the utility industry, Green Mountain Power is the company to watch.
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