The Shift Toward a Decentralized, Distributed Electric Grid Is Already Underway

Steve Propper, GTM Research's director of grid edge analysis, describes the pathways to grid edge evolution.

The electricity sector is headed for a dramatic transformation at the edge of the grid, where utility meets customer.


Like the evolution of markets such as telecommunications and computing, the phases of change will be varied and complex. Successful companies -- be they utilities or third-party service providers -- will recognize and adapt to market-specific drivers of change as they move toward enabling tomorrow's electricity system.

In a new white paper, Evolution of the Grid Edge: Pathways to Transformation, GTM Research identifies three pathways that different states will follow in their transition to the emerging grid edge and distributed electricity system. To get there, they will follow one of three pathways: "The Advanced Energy Consumer," "The Innovative Regulator," and the "Proactive Energy Provider."

The white paper describes each pathway in detail and forecasts the U.S. states in which each of the pathways is likely to take hold. Utilities can use the analysis to assist with future resource planning and distribution investment strategies, as well as to learn from markets undergoing early transformations. Solution providers can use the paper to better understand the nuances within each market adoption pathway.

Each pathway is driven in part by the environment in which particular utilities operate. The Advanced Energy Consumer model is a customer-driven pathway led by a concentration of early adopters looking to interconnect distributed energy resources with the grid. The Innovative Regulator begins with state regulators setting the agenda, with the most notable current example being New York and its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) docket. The third path, the Proactive Energy Provider, has the utility itself leading the transformation and defining the market.

"The grid-edge ecosystem will leverage advanced infrastructure, new technology and a robust software and applications layer to facilitate an as-yet-unseen level of integrated planning and intelligence," wrote Steve Propper, GTM Research's Grid Edge Director and author of the paper.

According to the report, "Customers are no longer regarded as ratepayers who are due ‘minimum service requirements' but rather as active participants and assets that contribute to the success of the entire ecosystem." In order to evolve, utilities will need to reconsider how they interact with customers and engage with them in a dynamic transactional electric system.

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