Q:How do we tell our customers we’re planning to shift some of our generation mix to renewables but currently need to balance the resources on the grid? How have other utilities educated their customers on the reality of energy and how the transition to renewables takes time?
A:When talking to customers about the balance of resources on the grid, utilities incorporate messaging around the following points:
- The timeline and plan (in years) for reaching clean-energy goals
- The balance of cost, dependability, and environmental impact
- The need for grid reliability and the idea of flexible energy that may be affected by weather conditions or time of day
- The reasoning that the amount of electricity going into the grid needs to be balanced by the amount of electricity being used
In this report, we discuss how utilities communicate these messages through a variety of channels.
Utility websites allow for more detail and in-depth data
We’ve gathered some examples of utilities communicating about their future energy plans and balance of energy-supply resources on their websites or through links to white papers or their annual plans.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E)
PG&E’s site has various pages with information for customers. The Understand How PG&E Delivers Your Energy page educates customers about the smart grid and how it keeps the PG&E electric system in balance. The Understand the Smart Grid page informs customers about why modernizing the electric grid is necessary for managing energy more efficiently. It states, “The current grid is also limited in how it can use clean energy sources like wind and solar power.” On the Discover the Benefits of the Smart Grid page, PG&E discusses how it uses a mix of energy sources—including wind, solar, hydropower, biomass, and geothermal—and that half of its energy comes from zero-carbon sources.
Portland General Electric (PGE)
PGE’s white paper A Modernized Grid Platform for a Clean Energy Future (PDF) discusses how the amount of power generated by resources such as solar and wind is highly variable, so energy sources need to be more flexible. It also states PGE’s energy plan for the future: “Between now and 2050, we estimate that our service area will need about 10 to 15 gigawatts of new renewable resources to transition to a clean energy economy.” A graphic in the white paper predicts that because of the rapid adoption of technologies between now and 2030:
We’ll need about 2.5 times the wind and solar we have today to meet customer demands with renewable energy.
We’ll see a ten-fold increase of energy storage capabilities on the grid.
Demand response programs will increase ten-fold.
Electric vehicles charging on the grid will increase twenty-fold.
Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD)
SMUD’s Power Sources web page explains: “We get power from varied sources, including hydropower, natural-gas-fired generators, renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydro and biomass, and power we purchase on the wholesale market. Our goal is a balanced and sustainable mix of sources. Our biggest single source is the Cosumnes Power Plant, and we are always adding to our green energy sources.”
FPL states on its Power Plant Projects web page that it’s delivering on a commitment to meeting its customers’ energy needs “through sound planning and low-cost, reliable and environmentally responsible new generation resources.”
The utility is building the FPL Okeechobee Clean Energy Center, a high-efficiency power-generating facility fueled by natural gas, to meet Florida’s growing energy needs. You can read more in FPL’s Ten Year Power Plant Site Plan 2018–2027 (PDF).
CPS is another utility with multiple resources on its website. The utility’s Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan focuses on efforts to reduce residential and commercial demand for electricity by 771 megawatts by 2020. The Energy Generation page lists all of the utility’s energy sources, including renewables, and the Energy Efficiency Programs page highlights energy-saving offerings for residential customers.
According to the CPS Budget Plan FY2018 (PDF):
CPS Energy continually plans for current and future electric generation, electric transmission and distribution, gas system capital construction programs, and supporting technology and facilities. … CPS Energy develops capital plans at four levels:
- A 35-year electric resource plan that projects specific electrical power generation alternatives
- A 15-year Long-Range Transmission and Distribution Development Plan that estimates the system requirements for CPS Energy’s service area
- A 5-year projection of the capital plan, to ensure proper integration with the Strategic Plan initiatives and targets
- The most current 2-year plan to meet immediate growth and modernization needs
Marketing, social media, and public relations campaigns are more-customer-centric and accessible
Utilities use these types of campaigns to highlight their more-customer-centric messages and point customers back to their website or a landing page to learn more.
You can find NB Power’s Our Energy Future TV ad campaign in E Source Energy AdVision, our database of more than 3,800 examples of utility marketing and advertising campaigns. It’s an excellent example of a utility addressing the balance of resources and energy-supply choices in a relevant way. The ad increases awareness around future energy-supply options and starts a conversation about energy choices and priorities. In the ad, NB Power frames the content in a familiar setting: ordering at a restaurant.
Indiana Michigan Power (I&M)
I&M used Facebook to communicate its shift to a more balanced energy mix (figure 1). It points customers to the Indiana Utility Shareholders Association’s Indiana’s Energy Companies Are Shifting to a More Balanced Energy Mix article that includes data on how the state has diversified its generation mix since 2007.
Duke Energy tweeted a link to the op-ed Sound Energy Balance for N.C. Should Be Based on All the Facts by its president, David Fountain, on the need for a balanced mix of energy resources (figure 2).
DTE communicated its goal of reducing carbon emissions with a tweet that promoted its Blue Water Energy Center (figure 3). The utility explains that a balanced energy mix is critical to having power available when wind turbines and solar arrays are unable to produce electricity due to weather conditions or time of day.
Entergy Louisiana used a coordinated PR campaign to spread its message, and local newspaper The Advocate picked up the story. According to the article Entergy Louisiana Reaches Deal to Buy Solar Power from Plant Proposed for Baton Rouge Area, the utility brokered a 20-year agreement to purchase power from a proposed solar power plant. The 50-megawatt plant is set to be built by March 2020 in West Baton Rouge Parish and will produce enough electricity for almost 10,000 homes.