Transformative Technologies to Watch During Next 2 Years

by Tanya Bodell, Energyzt

Humans have an obdurate tendency to prognosticate the future. Although futurists have free rein beyond 50 years, grounding in reality is required for the near term.

This is especially true in the power sector where commercialization of transformative technology always seems to be a decade away. That said, the combination of innovative business models, pivotal policy support and growing demand for new solutions could push certain technologies to a tipping point of widespread implementation in the near term. Watch for the following transformations.

Farewell, Incandescent Lightbulbs

Although the phaseout of incandescent lightbulbs has been pre-ordained since President Bush signed The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, recent reports indicate that most Americans remain in the dark.

Few seem to have noticed that lightbulbs more than 100 watts no longer may be manufactured or imported as of Jan. 1, 2012, and that bulbs more than 75 watts began to migrate off store shelves the following year.

At the beginning of this year, the most popular 60- and 40-watt incandescent lightbulbs no longer could be produced or imported in the U.S., making this year pivotal for energy efficiency.

By 2020, most lightbulbs will be 60 to 70 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs, a standard met today by most LEDs and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs).

Expect continuing innovation in alternative lighting and an ongoing decline in electricity demand for lighting requirements as end users switch on.

Smart Homes Meet Smart Phones

Proliferation of residential Wi-Fi systems, downloadable apps for smart phones and competitive service providers that already operate behind the meter are changing how consumers interact with electricity.

Although real-time power usage monitoring and control has been offered to large customers for years, these systems tended to be too expensive and difficult to implement at the residential level.

This has changed.

Firms with large balance sheets already in your home for other reasons are now offering energy management systems with smart phone capability.

ADT home security launched its thermostat and lighting monitoring services in 2010. AT&T Inc. announced the launch of Digital Life in 2012 and rolled out to more than 50 locations in 2013. Comcast Corp. teamed with EcoFactor in 2012 and announced the launch of Xfinity Home in 2013. And Google, provider of Internet, telecommunications and video streaming, bought Nest Labs for $3.2 billion earlier this year. Consumers are about to discover a new type of power.

And Even More Brilliance Behind the Meter

Beyond the next two years, smart appliances, distributed generation, energy storage solutions and electric vehicles are just a few of the other technologies that are marching toward commercialization.

According to Pike Research, the smart appliance market will grow from $613 million in 2012 to $34.9 billion in 2020.

State and federal support for solar has resulted in unprecedented levels of installation, which with the help of China’s investment focus, has driven costs down.

Fossil-fueled home standby generators also are increasing in popularity as tighter reserve margins and natural disasters increase expected outages.

Fuel cells have stayed in the game, recently generating excitement with expectations that Plug Power Inc. might post a profit for the first time in its 17-year life, followed by a disappointing credit downgrade when it did not.

Electric vehicles might prove to be the impetus for residential-scale storage solutions.

Some electric utilities, anticipating the threat behind the meter, have requested regulatory approval to advance behind it.

Welcome to Tomorrow

The power sector finally is starting to turn into something Thomas Edison would not recognize.

Although much of the infrastructure and business models remain the same, the tide of technology advances, relentlessly reshaping the edges.

Many factors are reinforcing feedback loops, pushing technological evolution and its associated impacts into exponential changes.

For some, these might be the good old days; for others, the best is yet to come.

Author

Tanya Bodell is the executive director of Energyzt, a global collaboration of energy experts who create value for investors in energy through actionable insights. Visit www.energyzt.com. Reach her at tanya.bodell@energyzt.com or 617-416-0651.

“Technology makes more technology possible.” – Alvin Toffler

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