Electric utilities have a lot on their hot plates
May 08, 2013 (The Kansas City Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Electric utilities are facing a tipping point in how to best deal with several issues including cybersecurity, aging power plants and pressure to keep rate hikes down, according to a new survey by Black & Veatch Corp.
"I think the survey confirms that being a provider of utility services is as complex as it has ever been," said John Chevrette, president of management consulting for Black & Veatch, which is based in Overland Park.
The complexity in part stems from the declining use of coal to produce electricity and its replacement by renewable energy sources and natural gas.
Natural gas, which had already been making inroads, is become even more entrenched. A majority of the electric utilities surveyed by Black & Veatch expect its use to increase at least through 2020.
"There is a growing acknowledgment that natural gas is here to stay," said Chevrette.
About 600 persons involved in the electric industry responded to the engineering firm's 7th annual survey. It showed them grappling with several issues and how to divide resources to deal with them.
Cybersecurity to prevent hackers from disrupting electricity supplies is a growing concern but investment in the area remains low amid other pressing issues, such as improving the network of transmission lines.
The smart grid, which would more efficiently deliver electricity, still has support has support in the industry but there are questions about it as well. Fifty-eight 58 percent of those surveyed said that a business case hasn't been made to justify the investment and 38 percent believe the technology hasn't been proved.
Legislation to reduce carbon dioxide is expected within eight years by 75 percent of those surveyed. Meanwhile, the regulation of coal ash, which is left over after the burning of coal, is expected to have an impact.
The use of small generation facilities that provide power to, for example, just one business is also gaining support among utilities.
"I think we are in an unusual place because we have a number of really important things going on at the same time, said Chevrette.
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