The electric grid of the future is the platform that enables continued gains for clean-energy technology and the nation's economy as a whole, said Chris Johns, president of PG&E at an event last week on Capitol Hill. Johns joined a panel of energy experts at the event, sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center, to discuss grid modernization for the 21st century.
In his opening remarks, Johns said PG&E embraces the emerging technologies in energy—including rooftop solar, electric vehicles and smart appliances—and envisions the grid connecting them in ways that make them far more valuable for customers.
He called it the Grid of ThingsTM, likening it to the concept of the "internet of things," in which technologies from across the spectrum, from health care to homes to energy, are interconnected.
"The Grid of ThingsTM will integrate all of the new energy-related technologies that are being developed," Johns said, "in a way that gives our customers maximum flexibility, maximum choice in how they use energy, and ultimately maximum value."
Johns refuted predictions that current trends in energy would bring about the demise of the century-old electric grid. Instead, he said, PG&E sees the "democratization of the grid."
"We're going to discover that these energy technologies are tremendously more powerful and more valuable if they're wired together through the grid," Johns said, "which means the grid is not only going to continue to be relevant, it's going to be just as indispensable over the next 100 years as it was in the last 100—maybe even more so."
PG&E has a unique perspective on the changes taking place in technology. The utility's service area in Northern and Central California is home to the world's leading tech companies; California's clean-energy policies are among the most progressive in the nation; and the state's rooftop solar installations and electric vehicle sales outpace all other states.
PG&E has been an innovation leader as well. Over the past several years, for example, the utility has invested in improvements to make the grid more resilient, flexible and reliable. To ensure the grid is capable of meeting the evolving needs of customers, more investments are needed, Johns said, in both traditional infrastructure such as wires and switches, as well as information technology.
Johns also emphasized the need for utilities to seek partnerships with emerging players in the energy sector, and he stressed the need for federal and state policies that encourage innovation while ensuring the continued safety, reliability and affordability of the service that utilities provide to their customers.