2020 energy industry predictions show increasing influence of consumers

Amongst the predictions of energy industry experts, the influence of distributed energy resources and consumer motivations for the types and use of energy will be critical.

Unsurprisingly at the start of a new year, or in this case a new decade, there have been plenty of predictions for what is in store for the energy sector in the short and long-term. One set that caught the eye of Fundamentals’ editorial team were seven trends identified by Interesting Engineering.

These are:

  1. Energy storage and battery development
  2. Artificial intelligence
  3. Blockchain networks
  4. Achieving grid parity
  5. Cybersecurity for the grid
  6. Distributed Energy Resource (DER)
  7. Politics and energy policy

Of these, AI, blockchain and DERs have particular resonance with the monitoring and management of data and consumption. In identifying the importance of these trends, the motivation of consumers – as well as the type of energy they consume and how they access it – is becoming a critical factor in the systems and strategy decisions made by generators and distributors.

The comments in the Interesting Engineering article chime with an analysis by Aakriti Gupta and Varun Mehra, from New York-based EnergyHub, who examine the change in the scale of DERs and their influence on grid development and operators. 

They focus on the challenge of lack of control facing grid operators from what they describe as “behind-the-meter DERs,” citing everything from fluctuations in solar output from passing clouds, to more down-to-earth EV charging demands, as causes of phantom load or voltage fluctuation.

More importantly, they state that the lack of real-time data from DERs, as well as limited access to them, not only creates problems of predicting and controlling voltage, but also may impact on the financial opportunities that could be presented to utilities providers by being able to fine-tune supplies.

They also show the divergence between Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS) and DER Management Systems (DERMS). The former, monitor and control the likes of switchgear and transformers which are predominantly operator-controlled and influenced. The later, focus on the customer-influence units such as thermostats and solar invertors.

Where the two meet is generally at the distributor substation and storage level. As Gupta and Mehra point out, and as Fundamentals has highlighted in previous articles, the ability to have the situational awareness to monitor, diagnose and control across the entire grid will be critical over the next 10-years’ of development. 

They stress the need for customers to be educated in the benefits of allowing distributors and grid operators access to their DERs, no matter how far downstream. Equally, operators and distributors will need to enhance their systems and knowledge to maximise their use of the information for optimum planning and flexibility.