This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

July 14, 2010

Report: U.S. Utilities Must Embrace Clean Energy to Remain Competitive

Several key trends in the U.S. electric utility industry are making it essential for U.S. utilities to provide cleaner, low-carbon electricity while enabling customers to better manage and reduce their energy use, according to a new report. The report, "The 21st Century Electric Utility: Positioning for a Low-Carbon Future," was prepared by Navigant Consulting, Inc. for Ceres, a coalition of organizations that works with companies to address sustainability challenges. The report identifies four key industry trends toward cleaner energy: growing imperatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increasing policy and regulatory momentum that will make coal-based generation less competitive, increasing use and policy support for energy efficiency and Smart Grid technologies, and declining renewable energy costs.

The report also identifies key roadblocks that are preventing utilities from acting more quickly: uncertainty about the future policies to reduce carbon emissions; rates based on electricity sales, which reduce utility incentives to promote energy efficiency; and the limitations of today's power grid to integrate large amounts of renewable energy and to enable energy management for utility customers. The report concludes that utilities should manage their carbon emissions based on existing and foreseeable carbon-reduction requirements, pursue all cost-effective energy efficiency measures, integrate cost-effective renewable energy resources into the generation mix, incorporate Smart Grid technologies, and conduct robust and transparent resource planning. Utilities that implement these practices with support from legislators and regulators will be more likely to attract low-cost capital, according to the report. See the Ceres press release and the full report (PDF 2.9 MB). Download Adobe Reader.

Ceres was also involved with a recent report that examined the emissions performance of the top 100 electric power producers in the United States. The report notes that since 1990, power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides have decreased by 54% and 52%, respectively, while carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 30%. The report also finds that relatively few power producers are responsible for significant percentages of the air emissions from U.S. power plants. For example, five of the top 100 U.S. power companies emit nearly one-quarter of the electric power industry's carbon dioxide emissions. The report also summarizes the trends affecting the industry. See the Ceres press release and the full report (PDF 8.1 MB).