Transmissions from the Future: 3 Energy Trends to Watch

by Dominic Barbato, Director of Strategy at Schneider Electric
May 14, 2018 2:05 PM ET
Blog

New York: bright lights, big city.

It’s a constant state for the Big Apple. However, recently, the bright lights weren’t just from tall, tall buildings. The additional radiance came from some of the leading minds in the energy industry — advisors and advocates who congregated to discuss the critical issues of today and the next decade. More than 2,000 decision-makers from the business, finance and policy communities assembled at The Future of Energy Summit, hosted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). The topics were wide ranging, but the constant was a focus on sharing ideas and developments moving utilities and companies to a more efficient, productive and low-carbon tomorrow.

Here are 3 trends that cut across many of conversations on what the future of energy will hold.

1. Machine Learning

As a prominent industry researcher, BNEF is constantly looking at and for technology trends. So what’s on the horizon? Machine learning, according to Claire Curry, head of emerging technology analysis.

Per BNEF, utilities have the potential to use machine learning to promote productivity, elevate energy efficiency, limit labor costs and almost eradicate scheduled maintenance payments. Machine learning can interpret consumer behavior patterns and accurately predict weather.

Machine learning in the energy sector is often at the pilot stage currently and can take time to implement. That’s because artificial intelligence and learning require a mix of sensors, communication networks and IoT platforms, all supported by data scientists. A considerable investment in developing infrastructure and expertise is the means to the end of realizing the rewards of advanced analytics.

But as the results of related projects show, it is the worth the effort.

Highlighted at the summit was a Duke Energy and Schneider Electric endeavor that helped the utility detect potential equipment faults and avoid an estimated $35 million in repair costs. Predictive maintenance technology, for example, identified a vibration anomaly with a turbine blade, and allowed the team to proactively inspect and address the issue before failure.

2. Energy Digitalization

Integration becomes critical as energy continues to diversify.

According to BNEF, IoT systems enable data from connected machines to be filtered at the edge, transmitted to the cloud over communications networks, organized by platforms and analyzed by applications software. Cybersecurity sits across systems to protect the data and secure algorithms.

Digitalization will create benefits across the value chain through the demand of new products, better visibility of assets on the grid, new tools for distributed energy management and lower costs for operations and customer service. In fact, the value this transformation delivers is projected to increase from slightly more than $15 billion in 2017 to over $35 billion in 2025.

Technology costs are on the decline and software functionality is increasing, which makes the benefits of digitization easier to capture. This is exemplified in the rise of decentralized energy resources (DERs), a focus of a panel discussion at the conference.

Microgrids, in particular, are emerging as a DER that are gaining traction because they bring together a combination of clean technologies such as distributed generation, renewables and batteries to help organizations operate in concert with or autonomously from the traditional electrical grid.

Companies can realize substantial savings — both near and long term — with microgrid-embedded technologies that insulate facilities from the risk and changing cost components of an ever-evolving energy market. And integration and connectivity are the lynchpins of these systems.

“What’s different when it comes to the digitization of energy? IoT isn’t a concept or custom solution now. Software-defined automation is real.” – Andy Haun, Microgrids CTO at Schneider Electric

3. MeshGrid Ecosystem

These trends ultimately lead to the interconnection of the virtual and physical worlds, which will blur the lines between energy supply and demand, and create a new MeshGrid™ Ecosystem.

Technology innovation, business model innovation, the arrival of the producing consumer (i.e., “prosumer”) and decentralization are disrupting the relationship between utilities and their customers. The days of centralized generation with a one-way flow of electrons are fading, replaced by a model with a bi-directional flow of power — not only between utilities, organizations and individuals, but between organizations and individuals themselves. This is all possible due to burgeoning, efficient modes of value exchange such as peer-to-peer networks.

The new energy economy will be marked by coupled, intelligent and grid-enabled resources optimized in response to real-time grid conditions.

Here’s my interview at the Future of Energy Summit with BNEF.

Learn more about the MeshGrid EcosystemMicrogrids, and see many of the BNEF presentations here.