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UTILITY INDUSTRY PREDICTIONS FOR 2020

image credit: © Marek Uliasz | Dreamstime.com

DISCLAIMER:  The viewpoints in this article are the personal opinions of the author and are in no way meant to represent any of the firms or technologies mentioned in the article. The list of firms and technologies discussed in the article is not meant to be comprehensive, but to highlight the applications in the electricity industry. 

In 2020, grid modernization continues to be a major trend in the utility industry.  Within this all-encompassing initiative, there are 3 critical developments I predict will occur in 2020 that will significantly dictate utility operations for the foreseeable future:

  1. Utilities will focus more on customer engagement
  2. Utility conversion to digital reaches market adoption
  3. Renewable Distributed Energy Resource (DER) penetration continues higher

While these predictions do not look new, 2020 could be the year that utilities begin to see tangible developments in these areas that set the industry on a path to comprehensive grid modernization. Each prediction is discussed below.

FOCUSING ON CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT

For years, utilities across the nation have been implementing an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Initiatives designed to install smart meters, communication networks, and data management systems which provide two-way communication between utilities and their customers. Some utilities have completed AMI, while some are still in the process. The result of AMI initiatives is that, through digitization, utilities are obtaining greater amounts of customer consumption data than they have ever had before. Now, using these data, utilities will realize that these data allow them to sell new services as long as they can engage with their customers effectively. This will be particularly effective with the rising population of millennial customers where digital communication by smartphone is highly desirable. Digital communication networks allow quick and secure means of communication while being able to interact with consumption data. Utilities who have completed their AMI will now see the monetary benefits of customer engagement through upgrades in digital communication.

CONVERTING TO DIGITAL

US utilities have been investigating the potential adoption of digital communication networks with blockchain and similar technologies. While blockchain technologies have begun adoption in the European Union, no significant adoption has occurred in the US.  Based in Spain, Klenergy-Tech1 has demonstrated its blockchain technology with the Spanish energy co-operative GoiEner and will demonstrate its technology in the US under a small California grant in 2020.  Based in Estonia, WePower2 has demonstrated the ability to securely transmit energy data in 2018.  Xage Security3 has developed its secure communication and data transmission technology which is schedule to be demonstrated under a DOE grant.  The Electric Power Research Institute has been exploring blockchain applications and use cases for demonstration under its Incubatenergy Lab Challenge4 as well.  With further digital communications demonstrations this year, 2020 could be the year that adoption of digital communication networks in the utility industry begins to see market adoption in the US as utilities realize that the speed of data transmittal in these networks can provide a significant benefit in managing intermittent generation from renewable energy.

RENEWABLE DER PENETRATION

From 2010 through 2018, NREL reports that US residential solar penetration increased dramatically from 0.2% of households to 1.7% of households5. Similarly, wind power has seen growth over this time period as well.  Much of this exponential growth is driven by lower costs for installed renewable energy systems and sustainability mandates from corporate entities striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.  Even states with no Renewable Portfolio Standard like Louisiana, Wyoming, and Nebraska have seen an increase in renewable DER penetration due to one or both of these drivers.  These trends are durable and will continue in 2020 and beyond across the US.  Moreover, as renewable energy penetration pushes higher in each grid, utilities will have greater urgency to develop, demonstrate, and implement better management approaches for intermittent sources of power generation.

CONCLUSION

Grid modernization efforts continue in 2020 and for several years to come.  For 2020, the utility industry will begin to utilize the large amount of digital data from one of the grid modernization efforts, AMI initiatives.  These data will empower utilities to better engage customers and seek additional revenues through new services.  Furthermore, digitization across the grid will move forward more broadly into the adoption phase in the US, particularly in communication networks, as use cases and benefits become well understood.  Finally, 2020 will see a continued increase in renewable DER penetration driven by lower installation costs for renewable energy systems and corporate sustainability initiatives.

REFERENCES

  1. Klenergy-Tech, www.pylon-network.org
  2. WePower, www.wepower.network
  3. Xage Security, www.xage.com
  4. Electric Power Research Institute Incubatenergy Lab Challenge, www.labs.incubatenergy.org
  5. Feldman and Margolis, NREL Q4 2018/Q1 2019 Solar Industry Update, May 2019, NREL/PR-6A20-73992
  6. DEX, www.energyxchange.io
  7. Blastpoint, www.blastpoint.co
William Buchan's picture

Thank William for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 7, 2020 11:59 pm GMT

Finally, 2020 will see a continued increase in renewable DER penetration driven by lower installation costs for renewable energy systems and corporate sustainability initiatives

This is a trend that has been going on for a few years prior and will be ongoing to come-- is there a turning point that might come that will turn up the juice in 2020 specifically? Or will this trend be a continued gradual one by nature?

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