The 51st State: What’s Your Ideal Energy Market?

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Imagine a place where there is no electricity market. No rules, no policies, no market. A clean slate. This is what the Solar Energy Power Association (SEPA) calls the 51st State, a new initiative to get people to think outside the box when it comes to utility design and infrastructure.

SEPA wants to crowdsource ideas on a new energy market, so it is pushing the industry to imagine a brand new U.S. state and create an ideal utility vision.

“The 51st state is asking people to think about a new state with a blank slate, with no pre-existing utility design or rate design structure,” said SEPA President Julia Hamm. “How would you design market-related components to drive the potential of distributed energy resources, while also maintaining a healthy grid with safe, affordable, reliable electric power?”

Hamm explained that SEPA embarked on this new initiative because it is difficult to have conversations about the future of the energy market today — people are stuck in the present and only think of how the market should transition. “It’s time to take a step back and imagine the 51st State and think conceptually,” said Hamm.

Similar to the New York Renewable Energy Vision (REV) initiative, which aims to overhaul the energy regulatory scheme, SEPA hopes to create a national platform that will capture a wide audience. “The 51st State is analogous to REV, but in New York they are constrained by their existing energy structure, so they are transitioning. We’re asking people not to think about transitioning,” explained Hamm.

The initiative will work in several phases. In the first phase, starting on November 17th, SEPA will accept letters of intent from those who are interested in submitting their vision. This letter should include a short abstract of the idea. Then, SEPA will have a 2- to 3-month submission period. Once that is closed, a panel of experts will review each submission and select three to five concepts for further review. Idea will be released on a platform where the public will be able to debate pros, cons, barriers, impacts and possibilities. 

The second phase of the initiative will take the concepts and map them to states, which could ultimately create a transition roadmap. 

“We’re not expecting one winning solution — energy markets and policies are different throughout the entire country,” said Hamm. “We’re simply looking for ideas in the first phase that are not tied to today, but to this imaginary place. Phase two will involve transitioning and road mapping.”

Hamm said that the initiative will start with a focus on distributed solar, but SEPA realizes that that there are many more technologies that contribute to a safe, stable grid. “But to make this easily digestible, we’re going to start the conversation around solar,” said Hamm.

SEPA will begin accepting submissions via Sepa51.org in November, but participants can visit the site today and sign up to receive important timeline updates.

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