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 toward cleaner, more efficient energy models.
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 We are in a moment, nationally, when much of our energy infrastructure is outdated or nearing retirement.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 some transmission connections in the United States are more than 100 years old. They now can be replaced with infrastructure that’s not only newer, but smarter, facilitating the transition toward lower-carbon generating sources and technologies.
Siemens is doing this by partnering with Con Edison of New York to deliver new mobile resiliency transformers that can replace transformers that failed due to extreme weather within days, rather than weeks or months.
As decentralized generation and renewables continue to grow, questions remain on how to manage and control these inherently intermittent resources. In the past, it was difficult for electricity providers to integrate wind and solar power to meet demand without risking service disruption. To avoid reliability issues, utilities must be able to manage this power and connect it to different grid infrastructure assets. Until recently, though, this technology did not exist. Today, however, new software allows utilities to analyze grid requirements virtually and lets power operators effectively plan for and deploy renewable supplies in response to real-time demand. California, for example, has more solar power than it needs.
The shift toward cleaner energy and energy-efficiency is also being driven in large part by the new energy consumer–frequently referred to as a prosumer. Whether they are homeowners, commercial building owners, hospitals, data centers, universities or manufacturers, the new prosumers are 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 phones and can interact with the utility. The testing made it clear that consumers want control over their charging experience.
While no one can predict the future when it comes to regulations, energy producers and consumers are making the transition toward lower-carbon generating sources and technologies.
The Clean Power Plan, if it moves forward, will accelerate this transition. Still, whether the impetus is to reduce emissions or meet the demands of today’s marketplace, there is no question that the pace of change is already picking up speed. The key moving forward, as the California example proves, will be collaboration. 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.
About the author: Kevin Yates leads the Energy Management Division for Siemens in the U.S. and Canada. In this role, he leads operational and commercial activities for Siemens’ complete power distribution portfolio–from utility transmission through to end-user distributions.