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2021 Trends and predictions

Doug Houseman's picture
Visionary and innovator in the utility industry and grid modernization Burns & McDonnell

I have a broad background in utilities and energy. I worked for Capgemini in the Energy Practice for more than 15 years. During that time I rose to the position of CTO of the 12,000 person...

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-01 - State of the Industry, click here for more

The obvious ones are:

  1. Renewable installations will continue to increase in 2021 and will provide most of the new capacity in 2021, but will not equal the energy produced by new, cleaner baseload plants that come on-line. Cost of new renewables will level out because the equipment has become a minority cost in the installations.
  2. Battery installations will continue to grow, and battery costs will decline, but the installed cost will increase because of increased focus on safety. New pumped storage projects will massively outstrip the energy storage of new battery installations.
  3. More coal plants will be retired, cutting coal to 4th in total capacity in the U.S. and third in energy produced.
  4. Public safety shutdowns will continue and expand from the West Coast in 2021. Manufacturers and scientists will be challenged to find the right devices to safely shut down the grid fast enough to stop ignition when dry vegetation hits the line. Customers will continue to pursue legal options to prevent vegetation management on their property.
  5. COVID will continue to impact operations and construction through all of 2021; we will start to see the light at the end of the tunnel in the fourth quarter, at the earliest. Work from home will continue to be the norm for the industry, except for operations staff and line crews.

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Not so obvious:

  1. Regulators and legislators will continue to tighten regulations on utilities, including deciding which specific projects can be done and the technologies the utilities can use.
  2. The federal government will pick winning technologies and award funds to those winners, strangling much of the new technology in the lab.
  3. The first circuit in the U.S. will be overloaded by EVs during 2021, and new EV owners on that circuit will be told they cannot charge. This will be a wake-up call for all stakeholders.
  4. By the end of 2021, 10 percent of all new car orders will be for electric vehicles, manufacturers will have trouble building enough. Ford will give Tesla a run for its money
  5. No major in-person industry conferences or exhibitions will happen in 2021, they will all be virtual. Some organizations will cancel first quarter 2022 in-person shows before the end of 2021.
  6. Many utilities will start to look at 69-kV, not as sub-transmission but as distribution in areas of high-density vehicle parking (e.g., rental vehicle lots, fleet locations). Some will start to understand what all electric farming and construction sites will mean to infrastructure. Indoor agriculture will also start to have an impact on distribution voltages.
  7. More cities will follow Ann Arbor, Michigan’s lead on plans like A2ZERO. This will cause all stakeholders to start evaluating the impacts on the community’s energy infrastructure.
  8. DOE programs on storage and solid-state transformers will start to have real-world impact at the manufacturing level for new grid equipment.
  9. At least 2 applications will be filed for installation of Small Modular Reactors in the U.S. beyond the first reactor that NuScale has under contract.
  10. President Biden’s administration will focus on an agreement with the auto industry to build only zero-emission vehicles after 2030. At least two heavy vehicle manufacturers will seriously look at green hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in 2021.
  11. At least 10 states will follow California and ban the sale of new non-zero emission vehicles by 2030 or 2035.

Bonus prediction:

For the first time in a decade a major merger will be agreed to by the two companies, and will start down the regulatory approval trail.

Doug Houseman's picture
Thank Doug for the Post!
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