Utilities invest in new tech despite political uncertainty in US

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Investments by North American utilities in green and renewable energy, as well as digital technologies, have the potential to reduce carbon emissions, and provide greater energy choices and lower costs to consumers, according to Capgemini’s World Energy Markets Observatory report.

Despite the United States’ decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and uncertainty around other government initiatives, utilities and consumers are driving a transformation of the energy system.

There is a great deal of uncertainty and contradiction on the future of climate action in North America, driven by the United States’ announcement to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Not only does this decision have implications for North America’s climate action targets, it will also impact climate aid programs in the developing nations, as the U.S. reduces its commitment to help fund these programs.

Additionally, the report projects that coal may become the leading source of power generation by 2019, potentially retaining that position through 2032, if the Clean Power Plan is not approved or stripped down. These impacts may be offset by the natural course of political compromise that occurs in the U.S. between the two dominant political parties and the Federal and State governments.

Despite this political uncertainty, utilities have increased investments in green and renewable energy. Within the power and utilities sector, efficiency program spending has almost tripled since 2007, from $2.2 billion to $6.3 billion in 2015. 2016 was a record year with renewable energy capacity additions of over 22 GW.

With the growth in renewable energy, enhancing infrastructure and grid modernization will be instrumental in the future of the North American electricity infrastructure and adequacy of supply.

For example, advanced grid analytics platforms can use big data from SCADA, Advanced Metering Infrastructure, weather forecasting and IoT sensors to provide actionable information in support of daily operations and intelligent planning of future investments. This is just one promising technology that is essential for the success of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization initiative.

As investment and adoption of green and renewable energy increases, a transformation of how utilities deliver energy, and consumers receive it, has begun. As renewable energy sources grow, so will the risk of congestion-driven outages. In the longer term, achieving grid stability will likely require big data, analytics, and automation versus human-based processes and procedures to allow the electric grid to remain stable.

“The North American utilities market is exposed to several significant, global variables in play – those not only impact how we consume and source energy in the near-term, they ultimately factor into our ability to achieve success during this time of transition,” said Bart Thielbar, Vice President, North America Utilities Practice Lead, Capgemini. “The U.S. energy market has shown growth in renewable energy projects and an increase in new technology investments – which shows a focus on building a successful future, despite uncertainties in today’s climate.”

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