There is a business case for traditional off-grid applications, particularly small micro-grids, which even a utility could love. In Vermont, Mary Powell, CEO of utility Green Mountain Energy, instituted a pilot program to lease solar + storage systems to remote residential and small commercial users. The program was ahead of its time and augured the likely future electricity T&D structure. But unfortunately, self-consumption is still not a business model most utilities are leaping to adopt.

As several recent disasters have driven home, the current utility infrastructure is old, archaic, needing maintenance or replacement, and lacking resiliency. Earlier in 2021, a frigid storm in Texas (ERCOT territory) lost heat and electricity as demand surged. The price of natural gas spiked from $3.00/BTU to $600/BTU causing the ERCOT computers to shed load and cut customers because of the price hike. In ERCOT territory (90% of Texas), people slept in their cars for heat and went without potable water.

In California, the summer of 2020 brought weeks of heat over 100 degrees and rotating blackouts. All over the world, electricity infrastructures are showing their age and failing.

The current utility business model is ill-equipped for a world where extreme weather is commonplace. The new utility business models need to be renewable-ready and adapt resilience as part of the infrastructure. In addition, consumers will need to learn conservation, pay higher prices, and embrace energy independence.

California is leading the way in the US by requiring solar on new residential homes and solar + storage on new commercial and multi-dwelling residential buildings.

Micro-grids provide resilience but require a change in utility business models. The change is coming, and yep, higher electricity rates are coming with it – but so are profits for new energy providers and energy security for users. Mobile microgrids offer high potential for disaster recovery following extreme weather events or wildfires. For example, utilities in California could use mobile microgrids during power shutoffs to ensure stable electricity availability for refrigeration and cooling.