Navigant Research Blog

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.

 

Utilities Will Rely on Vendor Ecosystems to Support the Energy Transition

— November 10, 2017

Until recently, I often introduced presentations or blog posts with a warning that the utility industry was about to enter the most disruptive decade in its century-long existence. That is no longer true, because I believe the industry has now entered that decade. Okay, the timing for different countries may vary, as will the length of the period of disruption. In fact, some countries—Germany and Denmark in particular—have experienced significant disruption already. But for most markets, the rumblings, threats, omens, and rumors have only recently turned into action.

Navigant Research has a significant volume of commentary on future energy markets, all based around its concept of the Energy Cloud—where energy becomes more distributed, clean, intelligent, and mobile. The old business model of centralized generation will shift to a decentralized, customer-centric value chain, where energy services become far more important than energy supply. Navigant Research also identified an additional $1 trillion of new value created in the Energy Cloud by 2030.

There Will Be No Energy Transition without a Digital Transformation

It is important to note that the energy transition is as much a digital revolution as it is an energy revolution. The $1 trillion of new value identified by Navigant Research will likely be created through the provision of digital energy services, from automated demand response to transactive energy. None of this value will be delivered without access to vast quantities of data from an enormous and heterogeneous array of devices. None of this value can be delivered without a robust IT infrastructure to support digital energy services.

As part of thought leadership, Navigant Research has identified seven platforms that are critical to the delivery of digital services within the Energy Cloud. Additional white papers are on the roadmap to discuss these platforms in further detail. Next up is a white paper on the neural grid platform, which describes—among other things—the devices, communications, and analytics that will underpin all other digital services in the Energy Cloud.

Vendor Ecosystems Will Help Manage the Complexity of the Energy Cloud

Navigant Research’s upcoming Neural Grid white paper will shine a light on the sheer complexity of the IT infrastructure required. There will not be any plug and play platform for the foreseeable future. The market is new, moving rapidly, and different utilities have different requirements. As a result, over the next decades individual utilities will deploy many platforms that rely on many datasets created by many devices communicated over many networks using many protocols stored in many locations supplied by many, many different vendors.

It is critical for the success of the Energy Cloud that vendors cooperate within official and unofficial partnerships and work toward their customers’ common goals. Join us on November 14 at 2:00 p.m. EST for an Intel-sponsored Navigant Research webinar. We’ll explore in more detail how the energy transition and associated digital transformation requires strong vendor ecosystems and gain some insights from Intel, which sits at the heart of one of the largest smart grid ecosystems.

 

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