Navigant Research Blog

Five Bold Predictions on the Frontier of Energy for 2018

— January 11, 2018

It is that time of the year again, when pundits pontificate about what the future holds, and citizens and corporations alike set goals for the coming year. I’d like to make five predictions for 2018 that underscore why a forecast increase in distributed energy resources (DER) over centralized generation will transform the global economy in sometimes surprising ways.

1. DER Innovation Will Abound

The spotlight continues to shine brightly on solar and energy storage technologies. Yet other forms of DER, especially generators driven by fossil fuels, will push the envelope on new business models in surprising ways. For example, Fairbanks Morse recently announced a new offering it is calling power reliability as a service, allowing remote villages in Latin America to access reliable electricity in locations not accessible by road or even airplane. These generators are forging new partnerships/acquisitions while also integrating upgrades revolving around novel hardware designs: Innovus Power (featuring variable speed generators) and the 360 Power Group (extensively patented modular generators that dramatically reduce fuel consumption and improve reliability), are just two examples.

2. One Microgrid Vendor to Lead Them

A US company will emerge as the leading microgrids controls vendor based on validated performance, offering a controls solution priced below $2,000 for a kilowatt-scale microgrid. The company has wowed US government officials with the performance of its controls solution. The question is: can it effectively market its solution as the go-to platform in a market not quite mature enough for a true plug-and-play solution?

3. Policies to Net Positive Results for DER

Trump administration tax reform and new policy directives at the US Environmental Protection Agency will accelerate smart energy investments by a factor of three. While some of these regulatory tweaks will reduce public government support for renewables such as solar PV, the net results will be positive for DER. A combination of public policy reforms at the state level in the US and actions by the private sector will demonstrate that the transition to key elements included under the Energy Cloud future is unstoppable.

4. Asia Pacific Takes Over Innovation

The center of innovation on the DER front will shift away from North America and toward Asia Pacific, focusing on four countries: Australia, China, India, and Japan. Each of these countries offers a landscape fostering DER opportunities. One could argue that Australia is where the most diverse opportunity exists in terms of DER integration with microgrids and virtual power plants. Australia is also home to Power Ledger experiments with transactive energy.

5. Energy-Water Connection Creates Opportunities

New solution offerings focused on the energy-water nexus will come to the fore in 2018. In California, Advanced Microgrid Solutions is one company to recognize this linkage with innovative grid-connected battery systems supporting public water agencies: Inland Empire Utility Agency, Irvine Ranch Water District, and the Long Beach Water Department. Of course, water is a necessity for life. An even more urgent need for energy-water nexus solutions is in developing world locations such as India, where 1 billion people need access to safe and clean drinking water (and as many as 300 million lack access to electricity). Linking solutions for both water and power through DER-based solutions creates synergy and opportunities, both for do-gooders and for entrepreneurs seeking profit.

A Distributed and Resilient Future

These five trends are not the only things I see in my crystal ball. Yet I believe they will help define 2018 as the world makes the transition from costly centralized power infrastructure to a nimble, flexible, and more resilient paradigm. We are in a historic transformation toward a clean, distributed, intelligent, and mobile grid. Do you agree?

 

New Opportunities in the Urban Energy Cloud

— January 2, 2018

The importance of cities to meeting global climate targets is undisputed. Since the COP21 Paris Agreement, more and more cities are joining early leaders like Copenhagen and Stockholm in pledging to become carbon neutral cities. Boston and London, for example, have both recently announced the goal of becoming zero carbon cities by 2050. To achieve such ambitious goals, cities will need to have implemented major changes to their energy systems by 2030. And given the speed of urban planning processes and infrastructure programs, cities and their partners need to instigate many of these projects within the next 3-5 years.

This transformation will touch every aspect of city services and infrastructure, including energy generation and distribution, heating and cooling systems, building energy efficiency, transportation, water and waste management, and the efficiency of city services such as street lighting. At the same time, city operations are being transformed by digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), smart buildings, artificial intelligence, robotics, and automated vehicles.

A new Navigant white paper, Navigating the Urban Energy Transformation, looks at the critical elements of the emerging city energy landscape and the intersection with the radical changes that Navigant characterizes as the Energy Cloud. As the City of Madison is showing, the transformation of the energy sector provides the bedrock for the creation of the low carbon cities of the future. This convergence of urban innovation and the energy transformation makes smart cities one of the key combinatorial platforms for the Energy Cloud.

The opportunities this creates for utilities and other energy sector plays is particularly evident in the building and transport sectors. A zero carbon city will need to address the role of fossil fuels in space heating and in transportation. Improvements in energy efficiency and the shift to renewable resources are essential steps but, more profoundly, the much closer connection between buildings and transportation and the energy grid will lay the foundation for a new Urban Energy Cloud:

  • Building in the Energy Cloud: The extension of building systems from standalone applications focused on the operation of a single building to hubs within a wider network of energy and environmental monitoring systems will be one of the most dramatic changes in the technical infrastructure of the city. Navigant Research estimates that only 0.5% of the commercial building stock globally is actively participating in the energy system today, but by 2026, more than 9% will be involved. This development will create new roles and opportunities for all players in the sector, including utilities.
  • The age of low carbon mobility: The decarbonization of urban transportation fleets is also offering many opportunities for utilities. EVs will be the single largest addition of energy demand to the power grid in many nations of the developed world. By 2020, more than 4,000 GWh of electricity will be consumed by plug-in EVs annually in the US alone. New services are already combining EVs with stationary storage and other renewable energy offerings to optimize regional supply and demand. The smart charging of swarms of managed EVs will enable greater concentrations of rooftop solar, as charging will be staggered outside of peak times and will be matched to distributed generation.

The city of 2030 will need to manage a much more complex set of interdependencies between diverse aspects of city operations, infrastructure, and platforms. This requires new networks for collaboration between cities, utilities, and other energy sector players, as well as transportation providers, building owners, telecommunication companies, and technology suppliers. Navigant Research estimates that this will create a market worth more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade for smart services across urban energy, buildings, mobility, and other city operations.

 

Cities Like Madison Lead the Way to Local Clean Energy

— December 5, 2017

As the Inaugural North American Climate Summit convenes in Chicago, Illinois, cities from across North America are leading the way toward ambitious climate action. The shift to local clean energy, known as the Energy Cloud transition, is creating new space for cities to influence the energy ecosystem. This transition will accelerate even more quickly as the adoption of Energy Cloud platforms supporting smart cities, building-to-grid, electrification of transportation, and more increases.

Imagining the Energy Cloud at Madison

Cities such as Madison, Wisconsin are influencing the Energy Cloud transition through their push for renewable energy and the reduction of carbon emissions. In March 2017, the City of Madison became the 25th city in North America to set the ambitious goal of powering city operations with 100% renewable energy and zero net carbon emissions. Navigant Consulting, Inc. (Navigant) is working with the City of Madison to envision what the future Energy Cloud looks like in this community. At a public forum earlier this year, we created a depiction of an Energy Cloud based on public input about how the City of Madison could achieve zero net carbon emissions by working together with the community to implement energy efficiency, renewable energy, and efficient transportation.

Imagining the Energy Cloud at the City of Madison, Wisconsin

Source:  Navigant (artist credit to Truscribe)

Madison’s “Energy Cloud” strategy includes making its facilities and operations more efficient, adding renewable energy generation, and identifying opportunities to incorporate renewable fuels and electrify its transportation fleet. People play an important role too. Influencing behavior by encouraging active transport, such as biking and walking, can help people reduce reliance on fossil transportation fuels and achieve health benefits through reduced air particulate matter and more active lifestyles. Additional ideas include training vehicle operators and building operators to operate vehicles and buildings as efficiently as possible.

Cities can’t accomplish their goals for renewable energy without working with utilities. The Energy Cloud includes opportunities for cities and utilities to work together. In Madison, the city is talking to two local utilities, Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) and Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin Power and Light (WPL), to identify areas of mutual interest. Topic areas include promoting energy efficiency, expanding solar and wind energy generation, expanding the use of EVs and developing charging infrastructure, and identifying opportunities to build social equity and economic development into these initiatives. The City of Madison and MGE have already made progress toward mutually identified goals: a recent grant will yield the first three all-electric Proterra Catalyst buses in Madison. Discussions with WPL are gaining momentum. The parties are looking at creative strategies such as building solar arrays on sloped industrial sites not well suited for buildings, possibly modeled after WPL’s successful West Dubuque Solar Garden project—the largest single solar array in the state of Iowa.

Leading the Way via People Power and Collaboration

Each city must envision its own Energy Cloud to account for the needs of its own stakeholders, including individual taxpayers, utilities, the business sector, environmental groups, and others. For Madison, people power and collaboration is key to moving closer to realizing 100% renewable energy. Cities like Madison are leading the way to implement an Energy Cloud transformation.

What does the Energy Cloud look like for your city? Navigant has identified five factors for success for cities that are looking to create their own Energy Cloud.

 

If You Build It, They May Come: Solving for Customer Experience in TE Platforms

— November 16, 2017

The utility customer of the future lives at the center of an ecosystem of networked and largely automated smart devices. Their household is within their preferred temperature range whenever they are at home; their EV charges when electricity prices are cheapest and is always ready for the morning commute; and they store any surplus electricity generated by their rooftop PV or, if the price is right, sell it in a digital market. Every decision made by each of these devices is a data point used by different service providers to refine and optimize customers’ distributed energy resources (DER) and integrate them with wider grid processes.

Transactive energy (TE) platforms will underpin tomorrow’s consumer energy market. The interface between energy producers and consumers, TE platforms allow parties to interact with one another in an open market while ensuring the needs of end users and the grid are met. These platforms will incorporate multiple technologies—including blockchain and machine learning—which have attracted a great deal of interest from the energy industry. But what should the consumer experience with TE platforms look like in practice?

TE Platforms Must Balance Grid Needs, User Preferences, and Ease-of-Use

TE service providers must supply an appealing product that creates value out of the box while providing options for users who are more hands-on. Optimizing household energy consumption to minimize costs requires a multitude of forecasts, calculations, and decisions. Since electricity bills in the US average around $115 per month, or 0.2% of the median household income ($55,000), the typical consumer has little incentive to manage these processes themselves.

Grid+, a technology startup and TE platform provider, solves this problem by supplying users with intelligent agents—hubs that integrate price signals, user preferences, and grid needs to coordinate a household’s smart device (TransActive Grid and Grid Singularity have a similar approach). While some user preferences may be set manually (e.g., preferred temperature range), most will be automated based on analyses of user behavior (e.g., heating the house prior to the customer’s return from work). The user decides their preferred balance of comfort and profits and they need only supply the agent with enough currency to pay bills and execute the necessary transactions on their behalf. All transactions are recorded rapidly and securely on a blockchain.

Thinking with Portals

Aspiring platform providers must devote as much attention to the end-user experience as they do to their platforms’ underlying technology. Customers balance their own comfort levels, convenience, financial costs and profits, and societal or ethical goals when making decisions about electricity consumption. Automation and machine learning solutions have the technological capability to deliver on that balance, but optimizing behind the scenes won’t be enough to inspire consumer trust or purchasing power.

The reality is that the Energy Cloud customer won’t care whether their platform rests on blockchain or a centralized database or a traditional billing system. They’ll care about outcomes and will need on-demand access to a portal that elegantly consolidates and visualizes their Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem’s performance: What are their profits from selling power to the neighbors? How well is their PV system performing and have they paid off the install costs? How efficient is their home? Positive, confident results will drive further investment into the platforms themselves (so might friendly rivalries between local users).

For TE platform providers, competition for users will be fierce, and consumers will have their pick of platforms vying for their attention. The TE leaders in the Energy Cloud future may not have the most advanced technology, but they will have a blend of technology, functionality, user interface design, and perhaps gamification that creates an attractive and compelling user experience.

 

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