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Energy Efficiency and Technology Predictions for 2021

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Julian Jackson's picture
writer and researcher BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is...

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  • Dec 30, 2020 4:45 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-01 - State of the Industry, click here for more

Distributed energy systems and renewables will continue to surge

2020 has been a difficult year for power companies. The pandemic has shaken up a lot of systems, and the economic and ecological problems the world faces continue to be a serious threat to stability. However there is a positive aspect to this: the continued expansion of renewable, green energy such as solar photovoltaic, wind, and hydropower, among others. Energy storage has also moved forward significantly in the marketplace.

The International Energy Agency’s recently-published Renewables 2020 report notes that COVID-19 has not slowed the growth of renewable energy. To project this forward to 2025, renewables will continue to be the swiftest-growing energy source.

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A new trend towards joint ventures to increase energy-efficiency between power companies and other corporations will bear fruit. For example, McDonald’s and Apex Clean Energy have announced power purchase agreements (PPAs) for two large wind farms and a major portfolio of solar projects across three U.S. states. The projects aim to reduce McDonalds’ absolute emissions from its restaurants and offices by 36 per cent by 2030, against a 2015 baseline. As well as the ecological benefits these projects will create, they will also supply 3,400 short-term jobs and 135 long-term roles.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and Tesla have started work on a 182.5-MW lithium-ion battery energy storage system in California. This Tesla Megapack project will reduce reliance on fossil fuels, while also boosting grid efficiency and reliability Consumers will benefit from reduced costs.

 

Behind-the-Meter Generation Disrupts the Utilities Sector

There has been a proliferation of distributed energy resources (DERs). Industrial plants, retail giants and ordinary households are increasingly installing devices like solar panels and geothermal systems to supplement their primary energy supply. This of course takes market segments away from traditional energy companies. They will have to pivot towards new revenue streams by getting more involved in the DER marketplace, by selling and maintaining such systems.

As major utilities find themselves compelled to move into the DER sector, the pressure will be on to deliver superior service experiences - efficiently and at scale. They will be faced with large numbers of new small-scale assets to monitor and service. So energy companies will need to make a focused effort to implement smart and predictive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and digital twins to turn the surge of data into actionable events. Market intelligence consultancy IDC predicts that by 2025, more than 50% of utilities will increase their automating operations budget to encompass AI, and ML technologies, thus doubling the penetration of predictive and prescriptive maintenance. This will be a major challenge, but also an opportunity for utilities to reduce costs while improving customer service.

 

Data, Decarbonization and Energy Efficiency

The pandemic has shown how the industry can be significantly upended, with some good consequences, such as reduced transport emissions. Many companies will be moving to decarbonization programs, and looking for greater energy efficiency. Numerous innovations will proliferate, including blockchain based systems, AI, ML, digital twins and the Internet of Things (IoT), as a way to deliver energy supply chain transparency, traceability, accountability, and most importantly, a better-quality service experience.

Although the past year has been a rocky experience for most people, there are many positive gains to be finessed in the future, including cost savings for the consumer, more efficient industries, and a reduction in carbon emissions over a wide spectrum of power producing and consuming organizations.

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Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jan 4, 2021

Julian, You hit it right on the mark. Renewable Energy like Solar PV and Wind are the lowest cost and combined with advanced Battery Storage it is even better. Solar is the best value since it produces the most when we use the most during the daytime. The Batteries are getting better by leaps and bounds. The Electric vehicles are much more efficient and can be set to charge Off Peak and EVen provide power back to the GRID with V2X

Norbert Vasen's picture
Norbert Vasen on Jan 5, 2021

Hi Julian, I'm brand new here. Thank you for this post, it was interesting to learn how DERs can add to the power supply and decrease transport losses. 

I am working in Energy Efficiency and would like to have this "invisible fuel" to have similar success, so that the Conventional & Renewable Energy are both consumed in a more rational way. The International Energy Agency (www.IEA.org) is one of the groups that confirm the sluggish and decreasing development of Energy Efficiency (3% gain in 2014, 1.7% in 2018, and now?) and this won't help us to hit the goals. Especially Schneider Electric talks about the Energy Dilemma (2x more demand in 2050, 0.5x CO2 emissions in the same year) and to fill the gap with more Energy Efficiency.

What is causing this sluggish development of Energy Efficiency? I'd like to learn about the views of the readers.

Greetings from Italy (here because of lockdown).
Norbert

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Julian Jackson on Jan 6, 2021

Hi Norbert, thanks for your input.  I also have noticed the slowdown in energy efficiency.  I am not sure if it is a temporary blip due to economic conditions. The benefits of "negawatts" i.e. electricity you don't use because you didn't need it, for  example because of better insulation, seems obvious.  Perhaps the impetus of a harsher economic climate will make people look again at this important subject.

Although the UK government has set out ambitious goals in its recent National Infrastructure Strategy and Energy White Paper I am not convinced it can deliver them on current performance. Unfortunately a lot of this really needs national and international goals and laws setting targets and penalties, for example for energy efficiency of buildings, which can't be achieved by individual action. 

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Norbert Vasen on Jan 18, 2021

Oops, a lot of silence from my side after a good tennis play on 4, 5 and 6 January! It is true that regulation has a big roll in the performance of a solution. However, in Italy a good regulation didn't give the desired result, back in 1991. I describe it in my Linked In Group "There are too few Energy Managers" in the first post. It worries me that after 30 years, the situation around Energy Managers, which I think is a solution, didn't change very much on the situation, not even in other countries like Switzerland, where I have my company. Often the task of Energy Management is given to non specialised (at least for this task) technical personnel.
It would be nice if you take a look in the group, I'd liked to know how the situation with Energy Managers is in other countries, like the UK.

Greetings from Italy,

Norbert

Mike Cassity's picture
Mike Cassity on Jan 6, 2021

Thanks for this post Julian. It makes a lot of sense.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jan 26, 2021

Julian,

Great article.  Curious you talk a lot about DER, AI, Digital Twins - where do you see growth for Energy Efficiency programs specifically in things like lighting, heat pumps, etc?  Also, how do you think utilities are going to be able to stay competitive, implement new systems while managing the fact that they were not able to collect payments from many of their customers during COVID? 

Julian Jackson's picture
Julian Jackson on Jan 27, 2021

:-) I felt I had to write an article and not a book, Audra! I particularly think there will be growth in heat pumps, with improving technology and reducing cost so they will become a more normal household item and not the province of very green enthusiasts. 

I agree, utilities will have a big problem if 2021 is, as I fear, a large recession. Straying into economics, the proponents of MMT think that governments can create sufficient money to finance a Green New Deal and reboot the economy by creating lots of investment in infrastructure and jobs. I hope so, but I fear the people at the top of government are wedded to old-fashioned ideas and won't do this. 

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jan 27, 2021

Agreed - this year should be interesting!  

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