Linbo Fan / Sun Staff Photographer

October 3, 2016

Keynote Speaker Investigates Recent Transformations in the ‘Energy Grid’

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Katherine Hamilton ’83 addressed concerns about emerging trends in the energy industry on Friday, the first day of the Cornell Energy Collection, Cornell’s premier energy conference.

Currently the principal at 38 North Solutions — a boutique consulting firm that provides business strategy and public policy services to innovative businesses, Hamilton emphasized the need for the United States to adopt policies that spur the growth of innovative energy technology.

“What is happening to the utility sector is so interesting and so terrifying at the same time, what needs to happen is implementing public policy in a way that is informed,” she said.

Hamilton cited coal plants as one of the many reasons the utility sector is experiencing turbulence.

“Coal plants are really in a death spiral,” she said. “That’s just the reality. Grid resilience is being tested. Certainly in this part of the country and elsewhere, the grid is not winning the battle against mother nature.”

Hamilton also discussed the increase in electrification, as new technology replaces old, and the decrease in innovation costs as reasons for the utility sector’s recent transformation. She added that the emergence of democratized innovation is a key transformation, changing “the way we use electricity and the way we think about it.”

Hamilton emphasized that, due to the importance of democratization, “the edge of the grid is playing an increasingly important role and anyone can innovate.”

Despite the exciting transformation, Hamilton stressed that path to more robust innovation still contains obstacles.

“Regulators do not fully understand new value streams and policies tend to reward status quo rather than risk taking and innovation,” she said.

Third parties and consumers should be given access to new energy choices, so utilities can evolve by allowing rate recovery for investments in new technologies and continuing to drive down costs of distrusted energy resources, according to Hamilton.

By integrating a systematic approach that “ensures impacts across the grid are modeled” and planning that is “inclusive of all technologies,” Hamilton said structures can be set up that “allow new technologies to come into the grid.”

“I’m super excited to be in this industry and I’m so excited that other people are too,” she said. “There are so many good ideas out there and so many people who are getting into the utility industry.”

The theme of this year’s conference was “Transformation and Turbulence in the Energy Industry.” The conference was organized by Johnson’s Center for Global Sustainable Enterprise, Energy Club and Sustainable Global Enterprise Club.