POWER UTILITY | Staff Reporter, Singapore

These are the power utility trends to watch out for in 2018

Industry-disruptive technologies like solar storage, as well as electricity trading and 3D modeling, are transforming the value chains of power utilities.

When Conergy built the Lakeland Solar and Storage project in Australia, one of the largest grid-connected utility-scale solar and storage plants in Asia Pacific, it served as a showcase to the world how utilities can make the big shift towards a reliable clean energy business model.

Industry-disruptive technologies like solar storage, as well as electricity trading and 3D modeling, are transforming the value chains of power utilities that for a long time have been structured around the traditional commodity-based model. “With the availability of utility-scale solar-plus-storage solutions, energy can be stored and used at a later time, intermittency is smoothened out, providing a dependable and stable power supply that is capable of dispatching energy 24/7. The implications of this concept, of solar as a baseload solution are tremendous and even disruptive,” said Alexander Lenz, CEO of Conergy.

“Not only can solar now replace some traditional baseload technologies but with the supply of more predictable and dependable energy blocks during the day and night, solar energy has now become an even more tradeable asset, allowing solar investors to achieve a premium in energy markets for their power output and increasing their returns,” he added. Lenz recounted that storage systems have come a long way.

Previously, these were limited to small households in undeveloped areas, where batteries served to increase the reliability of small solar systems. But recent advances in solar-plus-storage systems are bringing exciting new options for utilities, especially in making solar energy more reliable and accessible in a region
where energy demand is expected to climb 2.1% annually. “Innovations in power-sector technology, such as new storage battery options and smart-phone based thermostat apps, are advancing at a pace that has surprised developers and adopters alike,” said Tom Flaherty, advisor at Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting group.

Stiffening competition, rising environmental regulations, and ballooning operational and resource costs have been instrumental in pushing power utilities towards diversification of their technology choices, reckoned Masaki Sox Konno, managing director, Asia Pacific at South Dassault Systemes.

“Utility companies will need to operate efficiently and run on lean resources tapping on technology. They will need to tap on innovations like 3D modelling and simulation to better plan projects to cut down on costly outages and shutdowns,” he said. Konno added that utility companies should take advantage of modern connectivity to share business critical information in real-time across their multi-disciplinary teams, which then enables them to make better informed decisions.

Connectivity in energy

The importance of connectivity in shaping the energy sector cannot be underestimated, said Bundit Sapianchai, president of BPCG Public Company Limited, which is developing a pilot online trading platform to be used in a rooftop solar-powered community. “The most important trend that we find impact our business today is Internet of Energy which will greatly change the way the world consumes energy.

The increasing interconnectivity and possibility to generate electricity from renewable energy at a small scale means that anybody can become a producer,” he said. “We recognise that electricity trading via the Internet trading system will certainly happen,” he added. “It’s just a matter of time that electricity will become a branded product - when it will be part of a daily lifestyle of consumers with online sales platforms.”

Flaherty said amidst this torrent of emerging technologies and shifting customer attitudes towards smarter energy consumption, utilities will need to move beyond the old commodity-based model that focused on cost-effective supply acquisition, modernisation of industrial process equipment and total bill reduction. “Cost management and basic service will still be important, but they will no longer be central,” he said. “Power utilities will now need to provide alternative generation sources, energy storage, equipment replacement, sensor-based energy monitoring systems, facilities management services, and the infrastructure to back it all up.” 

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