The summer swelter outside may have been less than ideal for actually applying it, but talking about demand response (or demand management, as it is increasingly known) was front and center June 23 inside the air-conditioned ballroom of Washington's Renaissance Mayflower hotel.

It was there that regulators, C-level executives, alt-energy thought leaders, and highly placed representatives of the federal energy establishment spoke and took questions at the Demand Response Coordinating Committee's National Town Meeting on Demand Response and Smart Grid. The DRCC is a six-year-old organization whose members include utilities, system operators, grid technology vendors and uber-costwatcher Walmart.

The "Views and Predictions" morning panel was near-SRO. It was composed of AEP Chairman, President and CEO Michael Morris, National Grid President Tom King, Itron CEO Malcolm Unsworth, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, and Brattle Group Principal Peter Fox-Penner.

Some of their observations:

Morris thinks that within about 10 years, the U.S. electricity business will be "very deep into distributed generation," driven by technological advancement and economic motivation.

However, DG -- and in particular, combined-cycle heat and power -- will represent more of a diversification of resources than an abandonment of the current model. "I doubt that it will cause everybody to disconnect from the grid," he said.

Notwithstanding an incipient policy conflict over fracking-related groundwater risk, Morris sees domestic shale-sourced methane fueling the burgeoning fleet of CC generators. On the utilization side, he expects there to be "a very robust fleet of electric plug-in vehicles" operating both as carbon-rule compliers and volt-storage appliances.

King sees PEVs as both central to the industry's evolution and "coming on sooner" than expected.

"What's required is the infrastructure investment" in plug-in points, he said, to address both buyers' fears about getting stranded in the dark and grid operators' need for dispersed storage.

He said the road to necessary infrastructure improvements, demand response, and smart grid deployment would be traveled much easier in the context of a federal energy policy, though he stopped short of predicting if and when that will occur.

Unsworth, who also wants a national energy plan, cautioned that it would be no panacea unless it's broadly embraced. Observing that Europe has a Brussels-crafted energy policy that is widely ignored by its nation-states, he said that he's grateful that FERC is present to police the industry's interstate business in the U.S.

"That puts us significantly ahead" of Europe in terms of standards adoption and policy integration, he suggested.

For his part, Wellinghoff said FERC is working hard to develop all grid-related policies it has empowered under current law. Near-term, he cited a proposed rulemaking on compensation for demand-response resources.

"The commission believes that demand response should be paid a full locational marginal cost," the chairman said.

Longer term, Wellinghoff said, FERC wants to unlock more of the nation's dispatchable demand response, which includes such methods as direct control of end-uses (A/C and pool pumps), interruptible rates for industrial customers, and programs that compensate participants who reduce demand on a schedule or on short-term notice.

Also looking ahead, the panelists expect rising attention -- and accompanying policy development -- on security issues related to the proliferation of advanced metering and grid communications infrastructure.

"All these communication points on the system make you nervous," Wellinghoff admitted. "But it's a problem we can overcome," in no small part by relying on the innovation of grid-tech developers.

Fox-Penner, who has just published a book about the policy and business challenges facing utilities, described the incompatibility of state regulatory environments, an uncertain outlook for climate legislation, and inaction on a national energy policy as "pacing factors" in the industry's evolution.

There may be a consensus for overcoming some or all of those factors, he said, but it also should be accepted that "we need to do this as a marathon and not as a sprint."