In 30 years, the U.S. electric power industry will look different, said Mark Gabriel, president and CEO of Brighton, Colorado-based United Power.
The electric cooperative serves nearly 110,000 meters in a 900-mile service territory north and east of Denver. It’s also one of the fastest growing utilities in the U.S. with some 11,000 solar rooftops, more than 6,500 electric vehicles and a rapidly growing mix of residential, commercial and industrial members. Gabriel has seen the quickening pace of change, and he said U.S. utility leaders must ready themselves.
“We must be prepared to be comfortable with the uncomfortable,” Gabriel said. “Assumptions based on the past will not serve us in the future. We are moving from an industry with investments whose lives were measured in decades to investments measured in years. Technology will change the face of utility operations as we become network providers instead of providers of the only resort.”
Gabriel summarized his 30-year U.S. electric power outlook. He said:
- Hyper-localized generation will be the norm.
- Technology will flatten the peaks and valleys as storage and self-generation gain traction over central station.
- Power quality will be more important than power availability.
- Non-traditional players will run the system.
- Markets will split between air traffic control and financial components.
- Energy will be king, and there will be zero value for capacity.
“As Niels Bohr, the physicist, once said, predictions, particularly about the future, are difficult,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel is one of several experts to explore predictions Sept. 12 during the T&D World Live Conference in Sacramento, California. The panel, “What will the Utility Landscape be in 30 Years?” also will feature:
- Neil Bhagat, director of distributed generation engineering at Duke Energy
- Hani Alarian, executive director of power system technology operations at CAISO
- Larry Bekkedahl, senior vice president of advanced energy delivery at Portland General Electric
- Ann Moore, industry principal of Power & Utilities at AVEVA (moderator)
Gabriel’s name is known throughout the electric power industry, but his arrival in the industry wasn’t part of his plan.
“I backed into the industry by accident,” he said. “A business friend at the Vermont Marble Power company asked me to help promote a co-generation project being developed to support 800 customers. That evolved into helping with the design of a demand side management program. I was then recruited to join Central Vermont Public Service, and my 30-year adventure in the utility business was off and running.”
That career includes working as a utility executive in the 1990s.
“I experienced the huge transition and industry delamination splitting the traditional business model of vertical integration into its component parts,” Gabriel said.
He also worked as an officer and later acting president of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and served at the Western Area Power Administration.
“I worked through the issue of transitioning the greatest R&D organization in the world to meet the changing needs of the industry,” Gabriel said. “At the Western Area Power Administration, I was fortunate to lead the organization into markets, as well as an evolving technology transition. And now at United Power, we are leading the charge to become hyper-localized, reducing carbon while managing an exciting new future for our members.”
Gabriel said he’s making the most of his time in Colorado.
“I’m an avid hunter and fisherman, love camping, skiing and anything to do with the outdoors,” he said.
The T&D World Live Conference will be Sept. 12-14 in Sacramento. Registration, conference and event details are available on the conference website.
Kristen Wright is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience covering global utilities, petroleum and policy. She is chief strategist at Kristen Wright Strategic Communications. Reach her at [email protected] and wrightkristenm on LinkedIn.