Forecasting The Near Future: A Utility Industry Expert Peers Into 2024

Forecasting The Near Future: A Utility Industry Expert Peers Into 2024
In the near future, energy production, transmission and distribution will look drastically different.

By Satish Saini, HEXstream utility industry specialist

Note: HEXstream’s Satish Saini is a member of the Advisory Council of Engineers on Energy Transition to United Nations Secretary General. In that role, he attended the United Nations’ recent climate-change conference—COP28—in Dubai. Those meetings inform his forecasting blog post below. 

The energy sector is responsible for 40% of global emissions and majority if those come from the use of fossil fuels in energy generation. So our first focus at the COP28 event was exploring how we can phase out (or phase down) the use of fossil fuels. There are many
opportunities to do so in transforming the energy system. Think green energy—solar or wind—or hydroelectric.

Transforming our energy systems, of course, is a time-consuming process. There are feasibility studies, environmental and real-estate issues, financing issues, and technology issues that will take years to resolve.

Smarter analytics are emerging as a new weapon to empower us to work more efficiently and reduce emissions, to optimize our assets while providing greater insight into processes.  

And when we’re talking about green-energy resources—renewable energy on the generation side—we must focus on the other side toohow we’re strengthening our transmission and distribution systems. The problem is that, if we just focus on green-energy resources on the generation side, we overlook how this energy is getting to the end consumers. We must think about this process all the way through the transmission and distribution segments. We must strengthen transmission and distribution to get the energy flow from the generation to the
consumers more efficiently. And remember, our grid is very old in many areas of the US. 

If we are not going to put parallel investments into strengthening transmission and distribution systems, then all our other efforts in adding renewable generation will definitely go to waste. Similarly, we must consider how we can actually save energy rather than just adding more and more energy. There are opportunities in which—if we can save even 10% of energy—that has a huge effect on the global level. Or let’s say we can create even 5% more efficiency through better demand-side management or energy-efficiency measures. That is huge. 

If we want to achieve all these things, we need to, ultimately, engage the end consumers to help them understand how they can help with the supply and demand balance. 

Here, utility analytics are hugely important. And when we talk about utility infrastructure, we’re talking about efficiencies; we’re talking about thousands of kilometers of transmission lines, distribution lines, distribution transformers, breakers, reclosers and other devices that are not being controlled at a local level. There are no real-time monitoring systems in place everywhere, especially in the distribution segment. We’re talking about remote-control
systems—especially with the transmission grid—being monitored remotely now—their operational parameters, their maintenance parameters, etc. 

This complicates projects. And as a result, we need more data from all of the billions of devices, the distribution systems, transmission systems and even on the generation side (think DERs). All of this data comes into the control centers on the utility side. So we do utility analytics to analyze asset performance, to analyze the performance of the grid vs. historical trends, we do our planning exercises based on all this data. 

When we talk about customer engagement—or sometimes customer-experience programs—we primarily think about how we can engage customers through demand-side programs, demand-response programs, load-response programs, etc.

We must also consider advanced-metering infrastructure (AMI). We are moving beyond the era of old, electro-mechanical meters. The majority of utilities have not shifted to advanced-metering infrastructure…smart, interactive meters. The data we generate from these systems—from data generated by DERs right up through customer analytics—is playing a very large role in managing overall efficiency of these systems. 

I am proud to note that, at HEXstream, we are working on these initiatives. With AMI, for example, we can engage customers with accurate data, real-time data, and even educate customers regarding their carbon footprints based on what they are using, how much energy they are using at what times, and how we can help them manage their demands.

We are exploring within HEXstream how we can leverage these technologies to work with utilities, to work with customers, and the overall systems to achieve our net-zero targets. 

Looking Ahead 

In the near future—one year or ten years or twenty years—energy production and transmission and distribution will look drastically different. I can see major changes on the cost side and with distributed-energy resource projects…think windmills and solar. These approaches are getting less expensive and more efficient. There are a lot of research-and-development projects at the global level that are enhancing these technologies and our approaches to efficiently managing the connected grids. 

Then there are the distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) in which we are efficiently managing these resources like virtual power plants. We can use behind-the-meter generation, along with other distributed-generation tactics, to inform new demand-response programs. 

Simultaneously, a great deal of focus is being placed on energy-storage technologies, because, for example, wind and solar energy is not available all the time. They are dependent on there being wind and sunshine. With smarter storage technologies, we can reap more benefits from these resources. 

Hydrogen is coming up in a big way, so there's a lot of research on that front. I am seeing a lot of investments in hydrogen technology.

In the next 5-10 years there will definitely be a big change on the generation side. Everything is becoming more modern…more digital. There are expanding applications of artificial intelligence and big data analytics that will play a larger role in managing our assets and customer engagement. 

We are excited to be on this path.

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