On June 11, 2015, the Progressive Policy Institute hosted an event called “The Future Grid: A Smarter Way to Power America,” which included two discussion panels of policy-makers, industry leaders, and expert analysts. In his opening statement, Will Marshall, President of the Progressive Policy Institute, said that the key to advancing the energy grid, and in turn stimulating America’s productivity, “is investing more in infrastructure.” Ladeene Freimuth, Policy Director of GridWise Alliance and President of The Freimuth Group, corroborated Marshall’s statement by arguing that “smart grid technology will give us more resilience and flexibility. And we will have a more reliable grid in the future because new technologies will help us forecast outages.” In response, however, Ronald Minsk, former Director of the National Economic Council at the White House, warned that “sometimes when things get more complex, they get less reliable.”
All of the panelists seemed to agree on the need to advance the energy storage abilities of the grid. “Storage is the bacon for the grid. It makes everything better,” said Katherine Hamilton, Advisor with Energy Storage Associations and co-founder of 28 North Solutions. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) recognized the importance of energy storage in allowing “New Mexico to become a state where [energy] potential meets reality.” Heinrich is a proponent of creating a grid with energy from intermittent renewable electricity sources. With renewable sources, in particular, energy storage is critical, as it allows electrical power grids “to shift energy created in the middle of the night to be used during hours of peak demand.”
Various speakers also stressed the value of competition in a capitalist marketplace. John Stanton, Executive Vice President of Policy and Markets at SolarCity, views competition as essential to the future electrical grid. According to Stanton, “competition is an effective regulator” and the power behind capitalism’s “disciplinary effect on competitors. We should allow competitive markets to invest in the grid.” Paul Allen, Senior Vice President, M.J. Bradley & Associates LLC, agreed with Stanton on the need for competitive markets. “The problem is we misprice everything,” said Allen. “Our artificially low prices do not price externalities for anything, especially not for carbon. We need an authentic, real price for energy.”
At one point in the discussion, Paul Allen asked George Maue if when it comes to energy, Germany’s government picks “winners and losers.” Maue explained that the alternative energy options in Germany are renewables and nuclear, and because nuclear is not popular with the public, renewables appear to be the winners. “But everyone is free to do what they want to do,” Maue said, “so no, we do not pick the winners and the losers.”
What Allen said next surprised a few members of the audience. “One of the roles of the government is picking winners and losers,” he explained. Allen expressed his belief that our government should “make choices based on which energy technologies it thinks are best, and the key is for the government to remain transparent.” One must wonder, however, that if the government is picking winners and losers, doesn’t that contradict his earlier contention that market competition should be the driver for change?