What are the Biggest Trends Impacting Power Generation?
- Jun 9, 2022 9:45 pm GMT
What Are the Biggest Trends Impacting Power Generation?
Bio: Emily Newton is a manufacturing and industrial journalist with over 5 years experience covering industry trends. As Editor-in-Chief of media platform, Revolutionized, she’s always exploring the impact technology has on different industries.
The energy market is in a period of substantial change. Methods that have driven industrial processes for decades are falling behind as new disruptive technologies take their place. These power generation trends will have far-reaching impacts beyond the energy industry.
Automation and control engineers, in particular, must pay attention to these shifts. The industrial sector accounts for 36% of end-use energy consumption in the U.S., more than any other industry. Changes in factory power generation could yield substantial benefits for those that capitalize on them or cause those that don’t to fall behind.
Here are the most significant power generation trends shaping the sector today.
By far, the most disruptive trend in any form of power generation today is renewable energy. As the world becomes increasingly concerned about the environment, sustainable technologies have advanced at an unprecedented rate. Zero-emissions power sources will eventually overtake fossil fuel sources. It’s just a matter of when and how.
While some debate remains around which specific renewable technologies and trends will become dominant, some early leaders have emerged. Two of the most important renewable energy trends for industrial facilities to watch are small wind and rooftop solar.
Wind turbines account for 8.4% of all electricity generation in the U.S. While that might not seem like a substantial number, it’s more than any other renewable source. Experts also expect wind to be one of the fastest-growing types of energy over the next few years, thanks largely to smaller turbines.
The cost of onshore wind fell 39% between 2010 and 2019. Advances in technology have also led to the creation of smaller turbines with comparable efficiency. This small wind movement holds the most promise for industrial settings, as it enables facilities to generate their own wind power.
Large wind turbines may generate more energy but require far more space, often in the form of wind farms. Small wind lets factories capitalize on compact turbines on the property, even on top of facility roofs, to gain grid independence. While these may not produce much electricity overall, they’re enough to power some factory processes, helping manufacturers become more sustainable and lower energy costs.
While wind is the most common renewable energy source, solar is the fastest-growing, averaging a 33% annual growth rate over the past decade. Many factors have influenced this, but the most significant solar power generation trend for industrial settings is rooftop solar.
Solar panel costs have steadily decreased over the past few years, though recent supply chain disruptions have caused a temporary increase. Consequently, utility-scale solar growth may stall, but rooftop solar offers a solution. By installing rooftop solar panels, factories can generate their own clean power, reducing reliance on slowing utility solar growth.
Factory roofs present considerable square footage of unused space. Consequently, installing solar panels on top of buildings will cause minimal disruption and require no extra land. While this may come with higher upfront costs, the resulting lower grid energy spending will make up for it over time.
Combined Heat and Power
Sustainable factory power generation trends include more than just zero-emissions sources. Combined heat and power (CHP) helps increase the efficiency of factories’ power sources, whether they be renewable or not.
Conventional electricity generation systems waste nearly two-thirds of the energy they use through heat exhaust. CHP solutions capture that heat and convert it into thermal power, most often through steam or hot water. As a result, these systems can be more than 80% efficient, whereas traditional solutions struggle to break 50% efficiency.
Industrial facilities can use this thermal energy for building heating and cooling or convert it into electricity to power machines. In either case, they reduce overall energy spending without generating more power on their own, especially as these technologies become more affordable and efficient. Combining these waste reduction systems with green power can result in the most substantial benefits.
Another growing power generation trend is decentralization. The current centralized grid system has proved unreliable, especially in the face of cyberattacks and highly individualized energy needs. As a result, more areas are moving towards microgrids that provide more independence and reliability.
Since microgrids have fewer considerations to balance, they can help distribute power production more efficiently. This, in turn, makes local infrastructure more resilient by removing it from disruptions from other, far away parts of the macrogrid. Microgrids also let factories take more control over energy generation, producing more of their own power through smaller, decentralized energy infrastructure.
Factories can embrace decentralization through renewable energy. The more a facility can rely on its own solar or wind infrastructure, the less it needs from larger, more unreliable grids. This control lets industrial plants serve their unique energy needs more effectively and makes it easier to brace against area-specific risks.
Some factory power trends have less to do with where energy comes from and more with protecting it. Predictive maintenance, which uses internet of things (IoT) devices to enable more accurate and cost-effective repair schedules, is one such movement.
Ineffective maintenance approaches hinder the efficiency and reliability of any power source. In addition to that, wear and damage like frayed cables can cause injury to employees who work with this infrastructure. Predictive maintenance analyzes system performance in real-time to alert workers when something needs repair, preventing breakdowns while eliminating unnecessary maintenance stops.
Enabling predictive maintenance in factory power generation requires factories to generate some of their own energy. As facilities implement more power infrastructure like solar and wind technologies, they should also adopt IoT devices to monitor their maintenance to keep them running efficiently.
Despite accounting for more power consumption than any other sector, only 20% of industrial energy is electricity. Industrial sectors still rely mostly on fuels like coal and natural gas, but that’s starting to change.
The most prominent advantage of electricity is that it can come from renewable sources. While most electricity today comes from fossil fuels, renewables are steadily accounting for an increasing amount of electrical energy. Switching to electrical power means factories can experience the benefits these technologies have to offer.
Since renewables can generate power on-site and off-grid, electrification opens the door to energy independence. Industrial facilities should move away from fuel-based power and electrify their operations. Once that happens, they can transition to renewable power, gaining sustainability and cost-efficiency.
Nearly all of these other power generation trends involve implementing new digital technologies. That shift has opened the door to cyberattacks targeting power infrastructure, raising the need for cybersecurity in these processes.
The now-infamous Colonial Pipeline attack took down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S., resulting in widespread gas shortages. This incident highlights the need for stronger cybersecurity in energy infrastructure. As factories implement more digital technologies, they must also emphasize security measures.
IoT protections like network segmentation and data encryption are essential in energy security. Companies should also train all employees on security best practices like how to spot a phishing attack and strong password management. Periodic penetration testing can also help by revealing weak points and suggesting improvements to keep networks safe.
Power Generation Is on the Verge of Transformation
The power generation sector is transforming thanks to technologies like the IoT and renewables. Considering how much industrial sectors rely on energy, they must stay informed about these developments.
Capitalizing on these trends early can help factories move past historical weak points and ensure future success. As more facilities implement these changes, they’ll become more cost-effective, secure, and sustainable
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