Faced with the rapid evolution of generation, transmission and distribution technology, utilities are poised to undergo their most visible transformation in more than a century. By actively pursuing grid modernization efforts now — deploying smart devices, predictive analytics and active network management strategies — they can overcome the pitfalls of aging infrastructure assets and meet rising customer demand for clean energy, reliability and a lowered carbon footprint.
Black & Veatch’s 2019 Strategic Directions: Smart Utilities Report, released today, found after surveying hundreds of utility operators that utility business models are changing to accommodate the growing volume of renewable energy coming onto the grid. Smart grid devices are gathering staggering amounts of data about consumption habits and system health, driving the adoption of powerful new software that not only collects this information but makes it actionable, giving utility managers an unprecedented tool to plan for tomorrow’s energy needs.
The report explores how transformative initiatives — from the greater integration of renewable energy and distributed energy resources (DER) to the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs) — are reshaping the market, fueling the push for grid modernization. Satisfying future distribution and energy storage demands will require a highly connected, actively managed electrical grid armed with digital technologies and devices that can support two-way, real-time power requirements. These increasingly complex systems will demand holistic network management strategies that often fall outside a utility’s skill sets, opening the door for new workforce resources.
The report explores how common DER applications such as rooftop solar, on-site batteries and smart thermostats are rapidly gaining adoption and driving utilities and consumers to capitalize on ways to generate, store and monitor power. The report, in a section exploring the challenges associated with accommodating DERs, draws a comparison of grid technologies to the streaming outlets revolutionizing the music industry: “Similar to the way that music services like Spotify and YouTube give artists a platform to share and monetize their product without the oversight of a record company, a DER marketplace can have the same impact on our electric grid.”
“Energy, just like music, can now be generated from (nearly) anywhere and by (nearly) anyone,” that section’s authors submit. “The question is, do utilities have the mechanisms in place to ensure the DER revolution will play them a favorable melody?”
“Sharp planning and management will be essential as grid modernization spreads and technologies such as smart meters, automation technology and energy storage get added to the power grid,” said John Janchar, President of Black & Veatch’s Telecommunications business. “This is the new normal, with DER and the march of technology changing the game of electricity delivery. Utilities can’t afford to stay on the sidelines.”
The report found that roughly one in five survey respondents say their utility plans to allocate more than $200 million into modernization investments over the next three years, while an additional 26% report they’ll devote $100 million to $200 million.
“That heavy lifting takes more than just innovation and a forward-thinking mindset,” said John Chevrette, President of Black & Veatch’s Management Consulting business. “Utilities also must pick experienced partners in network management to give them peace of mind that this energy transition will be seamless, safe and worth the investment.”
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