- Jan 25, 2022 3:43 am GMT
This item is part of the Special Issue - 2022-01 - Power Industry 2022 Trends & Predictions, click here for more
Utilities and municipalities continue to raise the bar when it comes to providing reliable energy, water and city services. Despite the challenging circumstances of the pandemic, the power industry has kept our homes safe and warm, cities bright and clean water flowing.
Our industry has proven it can adapt, but the pandemic is a wakeup call – we must prepare for both the inevitable and the unexpected. It has also added to a list of growing challenges that continue to shape our industry. On top of dealing with one of the largest health crises in modern history, we are facing existential threats such as climate change and natural disasters as well as preparing for opportunities such as electric vehicles (EV) and renewable energy.
The good news is that the private and public sectors are already beginning to embrace next-gen technology, with an eye towards maintaining service continuity, resiliency and reliability. To meet the evolving energy demands, 2022 will be the year that investments accelerate and new ideas are embraced. While the last few years have taught us that no one can predict the future, below are five trends that I believe will shape our industry in the coming year – all of which are focused on ensuring we are ready no matter what the future holds.
1. Utilities will invest more heavily in technology to adapt to change and volatility.
Continued volatility stemming from the ongoing pandemic and market conditions, such as climate change, renewables and electric vehicles, will require utilities to accelerate investments in digital transformation becoming more agile in order to respond to consumer demand. Investments made today will help utility companies face top challenges in the future, such as an increase in natural disasters. According to the 2020 Ecological Threat Register, the world has seen tenfold increase in the number of natural disasters since the 1960s.
2. Electric vehicles will continue to grow in popularity and stay on course to become one of the most disruptive technologies over the next decade.
Nearly all major auto manufacturers are planning to bring electric vehicles to market over the next 10-25 years, and EV adoption is expected to increase by 36% annually. The massive scale at which EVs are being embraced and the lack of visibility as to where these EVs are being adopted has made grid infrastructure planning and management increasingly difficult.
Utilities recognize that a new approach is needed. New analytics are required to create greater visibility, new programs are needed to engage with customers, and flexible, real-time energy resource optimization at the grid’s edge is required to ensure a reliable, cost-efficient energy supply.
3. Renewable energy will create new opportunities to safeguard the grid.
As electric utilities begin to make renewable energy a larger part of their overall energy mix/portfolio (the expectation is 35% by 2030), they will begin to embed generation and storage capabilities closer to where the energy load is being managed. With localized solutions at the grid edge, utilities will be better able to address and isolate critical issues (e.g., cyber-attacks, outages, etc.) allowing the broader network to continue operating.
4. Adoption of distributed intelligence will accelerate.
Increased adoption of distributed energy resources (DERs) such as solar and storage will create new opportunities for utilities to realign grid management for greater resiliency. This shift will motivate utilities to make the necessary investments in distributed intelligence (DI) to achieve greater visibility and control of their networks at the edge. In fact, by 2023, 70% of enterprises may likely run some amount of data processing at the edge.
With distributed intelligence utilities can gain unprecedented insights while detecting impedance intolerances, right sizing transformers, discovering theft and enabling power quality in order to address and solve challenges with edge intelligence. By using smart endpoints (meters, devices and other sensors) with edge compute capabilities and peer-to-peer connectivity and leveraging a secure and resilient multi-purpose industrial IoT (IIoT) network, applications can be downloaded to devices in the field. This will allow utilities to deliver these previously impossible outcomes.
5. AMI 2.0 will become a necessity for managing the grid edge
All of the points above drive intense pressure for utility companies to invest in edge intelligence to enable the next wave in use cases that provide a safe, resilient, reliable grid and transform customer relationships. Real-time visibility and control of the low voltage grid and real-time data-driven consumer services initiated at the grid edge with distributed intelligence are critical to respond to these pressures. Every meter becomes a grid sensor, a grid control point and consumer engagement platform. Deployments will not only start with utilities that replace their entire AMI infrastructure, but we will also see use case-driven deployments of the AMI 2.0 infrastructure capturing instant benefits.
Utility companies will view the grid as a connected IoT network, increasing capabilities to gather more accurate insights at the edge versus estimating based on data from old models. Now consumption of AI and ML capabilities at the edge and in the cloud will be based on big data, the challenge here will be deciphering how to deploy these tools within a company’s IT infrastructure while also maintaining security throughout development, as well as updating operational workflows and back-office system integrations.
Technology advancements will create a more resilient and reliable future
While I can’t predict the future, I do know we are entering an exciting chapter in the utility industry. As we emerge from the pandemic, we are on the precipice of greatness where we can leverage data to make more intelligent decisions which will ultimately serve mankind. It is my hope that when 2023 rolls around and we look back at the past year, we can point to a number of technology implementations that are making the jobs of those in the energy sector easier and the lives of citizens better.
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