How will the electric grid change as the world transitions to a power system with more renewable energy resources? Some experts foresee a shift from today’s grid-type architecture to a system of systems—from the current centralized design to a distributed energy scheme. While it’s hard to know exactly what the future holds, it’s commonly believed that change is inevitable.

Shuli Goodman, executive director of LF Energy, was a recent guest on The POWER Podcast. LF Energy is an open-source initiative, overseen and hosted at The Linux Foundation. On the podcast, Goodman said power companies need to think of themselves more like network operators rather than as conventional utilities; otherwise, they may become irrelevant within 10 or 15 years.

“I think that any utility on the planet—particularly playing at the distribution level or an investor-owned utility—if they are not thinking of themselves as a network operator, they’re going to be disintermediated. And in the U.S., I think they’re going to be disintermediated by the Google’s, Amazon’s, and Apple’s for sure, because those companies are going to own their customers,” she said.

Goodman said two main factors are driving the change: decarbonization and electric mobility. “We have to get to 100% decarbonization in 20 years. But I think that we have to be able to show tremendous progress in 10 years,” Goodman said. “I think that the easier part of the equation is onboarding the generation assets at scale from a utility-scale perspective. I think the more complicated problems that we’re trying to solve for—and will need to solve for—are what happens behind the meter.”

Goodman suggested consensus among European Commission members is helping Europe move quickly toward a clean energy future. In the U.S., however, she said the government is sending mixed signals.

“Recently, [the Department of Energy] said that they were making a $64 million investment in coal,” said Goodman. “That kind of confusion in the marketplace from a signaling perspective is going to be extremely damaging to the economy of the United States. I have no doubt about it that we are going to suffer tremendously from that.”

Goodman said the economics are clear. “Right now, renewable energy is on par with any other kind of traditional energy or it is now becoming cheaper,” she said. “What’s going to happen is a level of innovation that’s going to occur in Europe in which actually the cost of energy is going to get less, and less, and less, and less.” The reason that’s important is because energy equates to productivity or production. “There’s a very tight integration between economics or economies and energy,” Goodman said.

Listen to the entire interview with Goodman on The POWER Podcast.

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Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).