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U.S. utilities face up to US$48B revenue loss from solar, efficiency

Lucas Mearian | Dec. 10, 2014
Energy utilities face losing between $18 billion and $48 billion a year in the U.S and up to €61 billion a year in Europe by 2025 as solar power and energy conservation initiatives grow, according to Accenture.

Accenture's analysis suggests that by next year, rooftop solar will be at grid parity across Australia and most EU member states, except less sunny ones like Sweden and Poland, and in Spain, where there are regulatory barriers to solar PV deployment. Japan will reach parity in the next few years, followed by the rest of North America, with the exception of Canada and some U.S. states with the lowest electricity prices.

The sharp decline in solar energy costs is the result of increased economies of scale leading to cheaper photovoltaic panels, new leasing models and declining installation costs, according to Shah.

Distributed has a long way to go before it beats grid

As part of its research, Accenture conducted its second annual survey of global utilities executives and found that despite popular reports of a looming utilities "death spiral," in which consumers migrate off the grid or use it only as backup, such a scenario us s unlikely and uneconomical for a large number of consumers due to natural limitations on viability and cost constraints.

The vast majority (79%) of utility executives said that it won't be cost-effective for consumers to go off-grid without subsidies until 2030 or beyond. In addition, by 2035, just 12% of customers in North America are expected to become energy self-sufficient, compared to 11% in Europe.

"While the 'death spiral,' as commonly defined, is a myth, the demand disruption caused by the growing adoption of energy demand-disrupting technologies is a real threat to utilities' business models," de Miguel said. "And in addition to the financial pressure, this will cause significant operational challenges for utilities, increase technical stress on the grid and open the market to new competition for energy products and services."

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of utility executives expect grid faults, or interruptions, to increase by 2020 as a result of low-voltage connected distributed renewable generation, up from 41% last year. More than half (53%) also expect an increase in grid faults from deployments of large-scale renewables, also up from last year (33%).

A significant majority of utility executives expect continued competition from new entrants in data-related services (92%), distributed generation (87%) and beyond-the-meter energy efficiency and demand response solutions (90%), as well as in a number of new areas, such as plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and associated charging infrastructure (81%).

"In order to navigate through this demand disruption, utilities will need to fundamentally transform their business models, including the creation of distribution system operations services to manage a more complex and distributed grid," de Miguel said. "As part of this transformation, they should focus on engaging with regulators to secure the long-term viability of the distribution business. This includes the adoption of new tariff structures, opening up new markets and aligning subsidies; investing in grid optimization, such as automation, sensing devices and real-time analytics; and developing new customer products and services."


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