In 2022 the utility industry was challenged with numerous disruptors, including increasingly severe natural disasters, fluctuating energy demands amid accelerated electric vehicle adoption, and aging infrastructure.
As 2023 unfolds, how will these disruptors change and in what ways can we anticipate industry leaders to adapt?
According to Stefan Zschiegner, VP of Product Management at Itron, there will be some key innovations with electric vehicles. He sets out the primary changes to Digital Journal.
EVs will be the catalyst of the energy transformation
Zschiegner explains that while aging infrastructure and increasingly severe natural disasters have been major concerns in the utility space, electric vehicles (EVs) remain the most disruptive element to the energy grid. When you consider the full scope of electrification – cars, fleets, trains, planes, etc. – energy demands are unprecedented and rising daily.
As Zschiegner finds: “Though just 3 million EVs were sold in 2020, the global market is expected to skyrocket to 233.9 million by 2027. On top of that, if every motorist in the U.S. switched to an EV, utilities would have to find a way to generate 25 percent more electricity. Adapting to these surges with resilience will be the biggest challenge for utilities moving forward – we can expect EVs to be a key focus area for government funding in 2023.”
The accelerated adoption of EVs will introduce unique challenges to the grid
While there will be challenges, the expansion will also provide opportunities for new revenue streams in the utility space.
According to Zschiegner: “Many utilities foresee major distribution challenges over the next 5 years. Consumers are catching onto this as well, as a leading concern with EV adoption is the availability and reliability of charging stations. Switching to an EV makes more sense for a California resident with access to charging stations every few miles, compared to a person living in more rural areas. In 2023, utilities will be met with both a challenge and an opportunity to install charging infrastructure that meets current EV adoption rates.”
Zschiegner adds: “Utilities are reaching an inflection point, with countless opportunities for new revenue streams. Many businesses will begin to view EV charging stations as a way to differentiate themselves from nearby competitors, with hotel chains across the country already making these investments. We will begin to see charging stations replace gas stations – with some California cities banning new gas stations altogether. Capitalizing on these industry changes will require education across the industry, leading to many more planning initiatives, pilots, testing, validating and scaling over the next year.”
The low-voltage network will change everything
The low-voltage network will be at the centre of all business opportunities in the utility space in 2023.
Here Zschiegner observes: “In today’s dynamic energy industry, the low-voltage network plays a critical role through the increased adoption of EVs and distributed energy resources (DERs), including wind, solar and battery storage. What was once a one-dimensional flow of power from generation to customer homes is becoming an interactive, two-way transaction with more unpredictable variables than ever.”
Zschiegner adds: “In 2023, forward-thinking utility companies will redefine what’s possible with low-voltage network management by leveraging the power of distributed intelligence (DI), continuous insights, analytics and control. Equipped with these actionable insights, utilities will gain real-time visibility of endpoints across the network, ensure grid reliability, lower operating costs, extend the life of vital grid assets, foster the adoption of DERs and EVs, enhance customer engagement and create new revenue streams. Localized improvements to the low-voltage network will be implemented in the next 10 years to drive greater adoption of new DERs and strengthen the two- transaction.”
Real-time data analytics will become a business imperative
Addressing the importance of data, Zschiegner proposes: “Now more than ever, the utility industry needs real-time insights to tackle our biggest challenges. More than 9 out of 10 utility executives (93 percent) view real-time data analytics as very or extremely important. Predicting how much energy load certain areas will require at certain times is generally done using historical data, but all this will need to change to make sense of emerging technologies.”
In terms of other advantages, Zschiegner cites: “Adopting real-time data tools will allow utility companies to merge demographic and economic data to predict future electrification needs based on a variety of factors. These advanced insights will provide numerous possibilities for improvements and efficiencies, supporting grid resiliency in the face of increasingly severe natural disasters and rising energy demands. Ultimately, without a flexible, robust infrastructure built on real-time intelligence, the questions utilities will be asking in 2023 will remain largely unanswerable.”
Distributed Intelligence (DI) will equip utilities to engage with customers in new ways
Another development is with taking the integration and adoption of Distributed Energy Resource (DER) programs to new levels.
In relation to this, Zschiegner finds: “Striking the balance between consumer expectations and utility priorities depends on intelligent, real-time data. Personalized insights are such a priority to consumers that half say they’re willing to pay extra to receive them. This data equips consumers with the tools they need to lower their energy consumption and reduce their bills, while also supporting utilities in reducing operating expenditures and developing new revenue streams. However, nearly one-fifth of utilities provided with at least some analytics technology aren’t currently using it.”
Moreover, Zschiegner adds: “This presents a unique opportunity for utility providers to invest in real-time analytics in 2023. In engaging with customers through real-time data, utilities will create new revenue streams, improve operational efficiency and accelerate adoption of DER programs.”