With the impetus built up over the last few years with the move to a low carbon future, the energy sector can look forward to another busy and eventful year in 2019.
The drive for renewable energies, changing customer expectations and the rise of the prosumer, the growing need for active management of the network, the ever-present cyber security threat, the push for electrification of transport and the emergence of new technologies, are all disrupting the utility business.
While all of these will be top of mind issues, Engerati identifies four trends to highlight for the year ahead.
Renewable energy resources
A key feature of the past year has been the continuing reduction in the costs of renewables and other technologies such as energy storage to what the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) describes as the “strong and steadily improving business case” for their deployment.
In an analysis prepared for COP 24, IRENA states that the global weighted average costs for electricity from all renewable technologies except concentrated solar power now fall within the range of fossil fuels, which in 2017 was between $0.047-0.167/kWh (although generally much higher on islands and in remote locations).
Indeed, onshore wind, where good resources exist, can be even lower and now represents one of the lowest cost sources of new power generation capacity, IRENA says. The global weighted average cost was around $0.06/kWh in 2017, with some projects regularly delivering electricity for just $0.04/kWh.
As countries work towards meeting the Paris Agreement and the conditions around it, most recently agreed at COP 24, pressures to accelerate the deployment of renewables will increase, while monitoring and reporting on carbon emissions also will grow.
5G and Internet of Things
During the past few years telecoms operators around the world have been working towards delivery of the next generation 5G communications, with the first commercial networks going live in Qatar in May 2018 and in some cities in the US during the last quarter of the year. Others are set to follow during 2019, when a plethora of 5G enabled devices including the first smart phones also will hit the market.
The emergence of 5G is set to mark a step change in the use of data with its greater capacity and speed and lower latency than the current 4G. As pioneers in the smart world with the smart grid and the introduction of intelligence at the edge, many utilities have in place the foundations to build out new use cases and services based on (near) real time use of the growing volumes of data.
Another beneficiary should be smart cities, with the development of an Internet of Things as growing numbers of devices and systems are interconnected.
However, crucial to the implementation of 5G in meeting the business case will be the pricing by the telcos, which at this stage is still emerging. Particularly where caps are involved, those will be reached much more quickly than with 4G.
Electric vehicles and mobility
During 2018 a growing number of countries have been moving to accelerate the implementation of low carbon transport, and electric vehicles (EVs) in particular, by introducing future plans to ban the sale of the traditional internal combustion engine models.
These EVs are bringing several challenges, including the need for energy supply for recharging and managed charging and the presence of an adequate charging infrastructure, particularly for owners with street parking and those travelling long distances away from home. In the UK currently, for example, typical experiences include malfunctioning charge points, charge point ownership incompatibilities and their absence in rural areas.
The chicken and egg question is frequently posed in connection to EVs and the charging infrastructure over which should come first for the other to follow. While arguments can be made on both sides, when it comes to charging and managed charging in particular, the infrastructure needs to be in place before it is needed to avoid potential impacts on the grid.
The UK government has introduced the plan that all government funded home charge points must be smart from July 2019 and other parties and countries should follow suit.
Blockchain and energy
The fourth and by no means last (or only other) trend is blockchain. Compared with a year ago when barely a day went by without news of another project launch, such announcements are now few and far between.
Notably blockchain is also stimulating a high degree of cooperation in the sector. The two major consortia, the predominantly European Energy Web Foundation and the US-based Energy Blockchain Consortium are both working towards delivery of sector specific offerings, with the former’s blockchain slated to go live in Q2 of 2019. With this, deployments can be expected to increase as new use cases are introduced.
The other key issue for blockchain in 2019 is regulation as governments seek to gain a level of control over concerns such as consumer protection and money laundering.
These and other developments will place added pressure on the business of utilities and other sector players but keeping on top of them will ensure that they are prepared for the new energy world.