WASHINGTON—Exelon is creating the next-generation power grid through sustained investment in technology combined with a focus on innovative policies that hasten the transition to a clean energy future, said William A. Von Hoene Jr., senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer for Exelon. Von Hoene spoke to corporate and government energy leaders and policymakers at the U.S. Energy Association's Annual Membership Meeting & Public Policy Forum held at the National Press Club.
"Customers want tools that give them more control over their energy use and they want leading-edge technology that increases reliability and efficiency, while keeping their utility bills affordable," Von Hoene said. "They also want to help advance a cleaner, more sustainable energy future, and that requires new policy solutions at every level."
The way Exelon and other energy providers produce, manage and deliver power is changing at a dramatic pace as a result of new technology and customer demand for energy that is always on and, increasingly, clean. Exelon will invest $25 billion in its six utilities over the next five years as part of a broader effort to modernize the power grid with investments in infrastructure and smart grid technology, among other things. Von Hoene said the energy industry is only just starting to realize the broad potential of smart grid and its benefit to customers. For example, Exelon's Baltimore-based BGE utility completed smart meter installations in 2015 and projects it will result in $1.5 billion in customer savings.
Modernizing the grid also allows energy providers to reimagine how they produce and deliver power. One way Exelon is doing that is through microgrids, which are self-contained, small-scale electric grids with their own power source. Exelon's ComEd utility, for example, is working with the community of Bronzeville in Chicago to deploy solar and battery technology within a microgrid project that will be one of the most sophisticated of its kind in the Midwest.
Von Hoene said that solar, wind, fuel cells and other localized, clean generation will have an important role to play going forward. At the same time, maintaining the existing nuclear fleet remains among the most important policy challenges in the effort to advance zero-carbon energy. Nuclear energy provides about 63 percent of the nation's zero-carbon energy, but some plants are at risk of early retirement due to wholesale energy prices that are at a 15-year low.
"Losing these nuclear plants would not only jeopardize reliability of the grid, but it would make it nearly impossible to meet our nation's goals to reduce carbon emissions," Von Hoene said. "Unfortunately, current energy policies do not fairly compensate nuclear energy for its reliability and zero-carbon benefits."
In the absence of a national carbon policy, many states are acting on their own in response to consumer demand for clean energy. For example, in Illinois, Exelon has joined with other stakeholders to develop legislation that includes a zero emission standard that will benefit the state's at-risk nuclear plants. The legislation is also expected to jumpstart development of solar energy in Illinois and increase energy efficiency programs. A similar proposal has been introduced in New York with the goal of preserving upstate nuclear energy facilities that contribute more than $3 billion to the state's economy.
"Through innovative policy design, we can meet demand for more clean energy, achieve emission-reduction goals and benefit the economy without sacrificing reliability or affordability," Von Hoene said.