Nearly a year has passed since the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There continue to be voices rising up to either support or denounce it and the U.S. Supreme Court even recently froze its implementation.
The perspective heard less often in these conversations is that America’s energy systems– regardless of regulations–is already in the midst of an historic transformation. A number of forces are driving energy providers and consumers towards cleaner, more efficient energy models.
These dynamics are front and center this week as energy leaders from across the region and nation gather in Dallas for an IHS forum focused on reducing carbon emissions. This meeting will coincide with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ annual transmission and distribution show, which gathers more than 14,000 energy experts.
In today’s energy landscape, the matter of aging infrastructure is critical. We are in a moment, nationally, when much of our energy infrastructure is outdated or nearing retirement. The nation’s grid itself is only starting to transition out of the age of Edison and there are some transmission connections in the United States that are more than 100 years old. They can be replaced now with infrastructure that’s not only newer, but smarter, facilitating the transition towards lower-carbon generating sources and technologies. We’re doing this by partnering with Con Edison in New York to deliver new mobile resiliency transformers that can replace failed transformers due to extreme weather within days, rather than weeks or months.
The shift towards cleaner energy and energy-efficiency is also being driven in large part by the new energy consumer – frequently referred to these days as a pro-sumer. Whether they are homeowners, commercial building owners, hospitals, data centers, universities or manufacturers, the new pro-sumer is more concerned about the environment and the ramifications of outages than previous generations were. They expect more choices and have higher expectations when it comes to monitoring usage. We discovered this when we teamed up with Duke Energy in North Carolina to test electric vehicle charging stations. These stations can be monitored by computers and smart phone, and importantly, interact with a utility. This testing made it very clear that consumers want to have control over their charging experience.
And as the proliferation of decentralized generation and renewables continue to grow, the question remains on how you manage and control their inherently intermittent resources. In the past, it has been very difficult for electricity providers to integrate wind and solar power to meet demand without risking service disruption. To avoid reliability issues, utilities need to be able to manage this power and connect it to different grid infrastructure assets. Until recently, though, this technology did not exist. But today, using new software, utilities can analyze grid requirements virtually and allow power operators to effectively plan for and deploy renewable supplies in response to real-time demand. California, for example, has more solar power than it needs. By using Siemens software, the California Independent System Operator, which manages an energy market for a six-state region, can analyze its grid requirements in close to real time. This then allows them to both effectively deploy their own renewable supplies and for other states to benefit from them as well.
While no one can predict the future when it comes to regulations, energy producers and consumers are already making the transition toward lower-carbon generating sources and technologies. Whether the impetus is to reduce emissions or meet the demands of today’s marketplace, technology and software can combine to help states with all types of energy mixes.
The key moving forward, as the California example proves, will be collaboration. And it’s not about focusing on any single energy source or any single piece of software. It’s about looking at the entire energy chain and finding ways to get better results.