“In addition to new energy efficiencies, we’ll be looking at social efficiencies.” -- Erich Gunther, Chief Technology Officer, EnerNex.

Gunther described the many changes he foresees in the future, including the drastic improvements in energy and social efficiencies -- referencing shared car services and public charging stations, just to name two -- during the opening Tuesday round table at GridWeek.

Dozens of industry leaders delved into the future of energy on Tuesday. Here are just a few of the insights shared during Tuesday’s round tables and sessions:

  • The one thing we know for sure: the future is unpredictable -- Thomas Kuhn, President of the Edison Electric Institute, looked back a decade ago, saying, “there were no i-Pods, no i-Phones, no i-Pads, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube, no Kindles … I don’t think we can imagine all the electric technologies we’ll have in the next ten years.” It’s even hard to predict when existing technologies -- like solar panels -- will become economically viable on a small scale.
  • There will be many innovations in the electricity sector -- There’s no doubt that there will be tremendous innovations in electricity over the next 10 to 20 years. Underscoring this point, Kuhn shared that 40% of all patents issued today are electric technologies. 
  • Consumers will become more “energy independent,” but the utility will always be important -- “As independent as we want to be, we are still going to want to rely on the utility as a back-up,” Gunther said. Relying on distributed generation, alone, is not terribly feasible at the residential level.  
  • Generation will change, drastically, in the years ahead -- Generation will be more distributed, more renewable, more variable, and more unpredictable, according to panelists. The reliability impacts must be addressed, and we don’t really have all the technologies in place today to deal with this challenge and change, Gunther discussed.  
  • Cities will become more electrified -- Kuhn talked about the focus of many cities to become smarter and more electrified; although, it’s still not clear what those cities will look like exactly.  
  • Demand will inevitably grow -- Evan Gaddis, President of NEMA, discussed how worldwide energy consumption is expected to increase 24% in the next ten years, and by 10% within the U.S. in the same time period (U.S. Energy Information Administration). Even with increased efficiencies, the growth of economies and the growth in consumer electronics will continue to drive increased demand.  
  • Emerging economies will become huge consumers of Smart Grid technology -- The opportunities for energy innovation and job creation related to meeting demands of emerging economies are tremendous. In India, alone, $900B in investment is planned for generation, transmission, distribution and power quality. “We get to build a Smart Grid from scratch,” said Vimal Mahendru, President of IEEMA.  
  • Consumers will come to expect real benefits, not just data -- “Consumers don’t want data, they want the benefits of the data,” said Jesse Berst, Founder and Chief Analyst of SmartGridNews.com, who moderated Tuesday’s opening plenary session. Berst also discussed benefits -- other than just cost savings -- that consumers care about, including economic, environmental and reliability improvements. 

While these are just a few of the critical insights, it’s clear that no matter where we’re headed, we must keep an eye on the future. Changing economic, political, environmental and societal trends will continue to shape “the way forward” for Smart Grid.

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