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Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) issued a whitepaper providing a view of what energy distribution systems could look like in future.The whitepaper, The Future of Energy: A Perspective and Pathway, is an analysis of the transition of energy networks over the past decade. In the paper, EPRI highlights benefits associated with the upgrades of electricity distribution systems, challenges likely to result from the digitisation of grid networks and measures energy stakeholders can implement to address these challenges.

According to EPRI, energy demand has increased significantly and is anticipated to continue rising due to a rapid increase in global economy and population, mainly in urban areas.

EPRI says that over the past 12 years, the world’s population has grown by 1 billion, passing 7.3 billion in 2015 and is projected to reach 11 billion by 2100. At the same time, the global economy is expected to expand by three to four times faster than the population.

Energy providers increased investments in smart grid technologies and business models as part efforts to secure their revenue collection, improve management of grid networks and meet recommendations set under national and international policies on carbon emissions, says EPRI.

For instance, in 2016, over 50% of residential consumers in the US were equipped with smart meters. The EU set a target to have 70% of utility customers use advanced and automated metering infrastructure systems by 2020.

In other regions such as Latin America and Asia, smart meter pilots continue to emerge whilst utilities in Africa invested in prepaid services to recover consumer debts and to make sure customers use the energy they can afford.

Smart meters are being deployed to ensure consumers are accurately billed and provide them with access to energy consumption data for them to improve their energy usage behaviour.

The energy landscape has also witnessed significant deployment of smart grid sensors and distributed energy resources to enable decentralised management of networks and consumers to generate their own energy.

The smart water and gas landscapes have also started automate their networks and systems.

Past and future trends

Trends identified by EPRI between 2015 and 2016 include:

  • Global economic slowdown which resulted in negative economic growth, negative energy demand growth in developed countries, no new environmental policies, international collaboration reduced and innovation focused on existing assets.
  • Localisation of energy systems
  • Domination of hydrocarbon fuels
  • Significant reduction in environmental footprint

Through to 2030 and beyond, EPRI predicts:

  • The global economy to expand fuelled by significant growth in energy use
  • Efficiency will emerge as a social, economic, technological and operational trend
  • Integration of water and energy networks with other systems will be very important.
  • Integration of system planning and customer information enables greater efficiency and control and creates new opportunities and challenges for security and resiliency.
  • Innovation accelerates, with new technologies and business models increasingly coming from sources outside the traditional energy industry.
  • The transportation sector reaches much higher efficiency, incorporates intelligence and communication technologies, and moves to low-carbon fuels, including electricity.

EPRI says these developments will not happen on their own but will require the active participation of all stakeholders in the energy industry as well as collaboration with stakeholders in other sectors.

The organisation recommends energy providers, policy makers and research and development firms to:

  • Manage energy and natural resources as an integrat¬ed system.
  • Guide an efficient transition to much more digital, dynamic, and networked energy systems, which will require significant technology advances and infra¬structure investments coupled with secure and private communication, control, and operational standards.
  • Accelerate the development of cleaner energy technologies such as energy storage solutions
  • Increase energy system resiliency and security while protecting privacy.
  • Create new business models that build on the strengths of today’s energy infrastructure while taking advantage of new technological possibilities.

 

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