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November 8, 2012
August 1, 2009
Persistent climate change concerns, volatile energy prices and a growing awareness of technological advancement in energy are leading consumers across the globe to reconsider their role in the electric power value chain. Likewise, substantial increases in utility infrastructure investment are likely due to global demands for climate change mitigation; the need to support aging networks and generation plants; and proliferation of government stimulus plans for weakened economies.
With the new administration talking about a trillion dollars of infrastructure investment, the time for the intelligent utility of the future is now. Political pressure and climate change are going to drive massive investments in renewable and clean energy and smart grid technology. These investments will empower customers through the launch and adoption of demand response and energy efficiency programs.
In the past, distribution demand reduction was a technique used only in emergency situations a few times a year – if that. It was an all-or-nothing capability that you turned on, and hoped for the best until the emergency was over. Few utilities could measure the effectiveness, let alone the potential of any solutions that were devised.
In the past, the utility industry could consider itself exempt from market drivers like those listed above. However, today’s utilities are immersed in a sea of change. Customers demand reliable power in unlimited supply, generated in environmentally friendly ways without increased cost. All the while regulators are telling consumers to “change the way they are using energy or be ready to pay more,” and the Department of Energy is calling for utilities to make significant reductions in usage by 2020 .
For the last few decades the growth of the world’s population and its corresponding increased demand for electrical energy has created a huge increase in the supply of electrical power. However, for logistical, environmental, political and social reasons, this power generation is rarely near its consumers, necessitating the growth of very large and complex transmission networks. The addition of variable wind energy in remote locations is only exacerbating the situation.
The nuclear power industry is facing significant employee turnover, which may be exacerbated by the need to staff new nuclear units. To maintain a highly skilled workforce to safely operate U.S. nuclear plants, the industry must find ways to expedite training and qualification, enhance knowledge transfer to the next generation of workers, and develop leadership talent to achieve excellent organizational effectiveness.
The smart grid is progressing well on several fronts. Groups such as the Grid Wise Alliance, events such as Grid Week, and national policy citations such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the U.S., for example, have all brought more positive attention to this opportunity. The boom in distributed renewable energy and its demands for a bidirectional grid are driving the need forward, as are sentiments for improving consumer control and awareness, giving customers the ability to engage in real-time energy conservation.
Change is being forced upon the utilities industry. Business drivers range from stakeholder pressure for greater efficiency to the changing technologies involved in operational energy networks. New technologies such as intelligent networks or smart grids, distribution automation or smart metering are being considered.
The communications network is becoming the key enabler for the evolution of reliable energy supply. However, few utilities today have a communications network that is robust enough to handle and support the exacting demands that energy delivery is now making.