Unlike any other time, technology is having a tremendous impact on the energy industry. Some of the major trends are in areas we’re familiar with, yet the level of activity has increased dramatically.
We see energy providers increasingly turning to information and communications technology to modernize the grid and improve situational awareness, with the goal of further maximizing the use of operational assets and optimizing the energy value chain. With specific expertise in these areas, we at Intel, along with our energy industry partners, are focused on the following technology trends for 2018:
1. Costs for Solar and Wind Power Continue to fall
In an increasingly larger number of countries, it has now become more economical to install solar and wind capacity than coal capacity. It is estimated that more than 30 countries have already reached grid parity without subsidies, and around two thirds of the world should reach grid parity in the next couple of years, according to the World Economic Forum.
2. Governments Invest in Green Energy
Countries are making green investment pledges to raise more money for climate action, as seen by commitments made at the Paris Climate Accord and the “One Planet” summit in Paris. Some of these efforts will drive the gasification of the coal industry in the short term and the growth of utility-scale solar and wind generation (off-shore and on-shore) in the long term to reduce the emission of pollutants.
3. Utility Companies Add Batteries to the Grid
Lithium-ion batteries are now a viable option to store energy on the grid, enabling utility companies to take full advantage of renewable energy sources despite their variable, intermittent output. One example is San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), which deployed a 30 MW lithium-ion battery system, capable of storing 120 MWh of energy and serving 20,000 customers for four hours.
4. Electric Vehicle Momentum Accelerates
A lack of ubiquitous and fast charging stations has caused potential electric vehicle (EV) owners to defer their purchase as they may not consider an EV as a replacement of their gasoline powered car. Some automakers and utilities see this as a big opportunity and plan to significantly increase the number of vehicle charging stations. Four automakers started a joint venture, called create Ionity, with plans to install a network of 400 high-power EV chargers across Europe by 2020; and French utility Engie bought Dutch EV-Box, one of Europe’s biggest makers of charging stations.
With EV charging destined to be a huge business opportunity, operators are trying figure out how to best compete in what will be a fiercely competitive market. This requires data collected on EVs (e.g., charge times, tire pressure, and vehicle performance), and consumer behavior and preferences. Early on, some operators may even give consumers free charges in order to get them to opt-into data collection programs. Data privacy will be a critical regulation consideration.
As EVs become more popular, the future of gas-powered vehicles is dimming, as countries such as China and France ready plans to end sales by around 2040. Even sooner, the Paris authorities plan to banish all petrol- and diesel-fueled cars from its city by 2030. This movement will fuel higher technology investment in EVs and charging stations.
5. Energy Production Gets Consumerized
A number of businesses and consumers already have solar panels on rooftops, and microgrids are emerging to give them more control over how they produce, consume, and sell energy. This is a way for companies and homeowners to become their own utility. One example is the Indian government, which is planning to build at least 10,000 renewable-based micro- and mini-grid projects across the country, with the goal of making electricity more reliable for consumers.
6. Distributed Generation Will Improve Grid Reliability
Utilities will integrate into their forecast the output of distributed energy resources (DERs), including distributed generation, distributed storage, electric vehicles, demand response, and microgrids. To maintain the reliability of the grid, it is critically important to monitor all these DERs in order to accurately forecast and respond to changes in energy production and demand. With a more active grid management, mitigation measures against the variability of renewable generation, unplanned outages, unbalanced networks, and excessive peak demand will be addressed using intelligent real-time analytics rather than brute force equipment uprating.
7. Utility Companies Deploy their own Communication Networks
Looking to reduce telco costs and have a dedicated control network, some utility companies will consider deploying their own 5G networks. These network would also allow utility companies to collect their own data wirelessly and generate revenue by selling bandwidth to content providers offering services to the home. Most suited for dense population areas, power-line communication (PLC) that sends data over existing power cables has been used for similar purposes. The combination of PLC and 5G will become an attractive option for utility private communication networks, supporting all their operational and business needs.
In my next blog, I will discuss how new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), real-time networking, virtualization, and deep learning adapted to the grid environment can be designed and deployed to better address these trends.
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