The energy sector is in the midst of dramatic (some would say revolutionary) changes. The ongoing boom in unconventional oil and gas development is reshaping the economics and geopolitics of energy markets throughout the world. In the United States, cheap, abundant natural gas combined with a suite of new air pollution regulations has resulted in a significant and ongoing decline in coal-fired electricity generation, which is largely being replaced with gas-fired generation. At the same time, the shale gas boom is threatening the strong growth that renewable energy has enjoyed in recent years, particularly in the context of limited and/or declining federal policy supports. The traditional utility business model is also under pressure with increased attention to and support for efficiency and demand response, a proliferation of smart grid technologies and vendors, distributed generation, and a deeper penetration of information technology in various aspects of the electric power system.
These developments are fostering the emergence of new contractual arrangements and new forms of industrial organization in various segments of the electricity utility industry, posing important questions about the continued viability of the traditional cost-of-service regulatory model. These changes are also affecting incentives for investments in the grid, including expanded transmission and storage, which in turn poses considerable challenges for efforts to facilitate increased use of renewable energy going forward. In short, there is a great deal that is "in play" in the contemporary energy sector, with significant implications for the future.
This conference will explore several aspects of the changing energy mix, with particular attention to the electric power sector in the United States. The first panel will evaluate the evolving market structure of the electric power sector, focusing on the rise new contractual arrangements and the implications for vertically integrated investor owned utilities. The second panel will focus in some detail on the implications of unconventional natural gas for the electric power sector. The third panel will explore some of the challenges and opportunities facing investments in transmission and storage and the extent to which these could support and enable the expansion of renewable energy in the context of a dramatically altered energy landscape. FERC Commissioner Tony Clark will close the conference with a keynote address.