Energy: Trends, Challenges and Solutions for a Changing World

Energy: Trends, Challenges and Solutions for a Changing World

Ken Boyce, Principal Engineer Director, Energy & Power Technologies, UL

Ken Boyce, Principal Engineer Director, Energy & Power Technologies, UL

Our world is rapidly changing in many ways. Climate change is creating new challenges in weather, environment and habitats. Massive migration to cities continues as the world’s population grows in new places toward 8 billion. The emergence of new global economies is creating new middle classes and increasing energy demand, although over 1.3 billion of the world’s people still have no reliable source of electricity. It is estimated that the present built infrastructure in the world will be fully doubled in the next forty years as we see new urban centers rise and replace outdated infrastructure.

As this occurs, technology is changing the world’s energy infrastructure and operations. The Internet of Things (IoT) is deeply penetrating the energy domain, driving new capabilities and ecosystems. Renewables continue to be the fastest growing energy sectors, with massive commitments in China, India and elsewhere. There are several critical megatrends that are influencing this evolution on a global scale:

Digitization of the world’s energy domain is rapidly occurring. This is evident in advanced grid technologies being deployed in California and around the world, where loads and buildings now actively collaborate with the grid. Intelligence in buildings and equipment is increasing efficiency and reducing demand. Predictive modeling and maintenance are improving resilience and operation of the grid in countless ways. Embedding advanced intelligence in the manufacturing sector through Industry 4.0 and similar initiatives is transforming energy demand profiles. We have reached a tipping point globally in this digital revolution – there are now more connected devices than people on the earth, and in the last few years alone we created more data than in all the previous years of human existence.

Decentralization continues to offer intriguing new ways of generating, storing and using energy. Continued deployment of distributed energy resources, from rooftop solar to wind turbines to microgrids empower energy consumers to control the ways they procure and use energy. The electric grid will not be replaced but is changing to accommodate these parallel infrastructures – nearly 160 GW of renewable generation was commissioned in 2017 alone. The United Nations indicates that China made the largest investment in renewables last year, a whopping $126.6 billion, more than 30% more than 2016. The next generation of energy is being built around us right now. The benefits of resource efficiency, increased resilience, and increased customization all support continued progress.

Mobility continues to be a major driving force that consumers relentlessly impose. The desire to do almost anything, almost anywhere, at any time has caused dramatic changes in market offerings. In the energy space, this has several critical implications. First it means continued focus on e-mobility, from electric vehicles to electrification of air transport to on-demand personal e-mobility platforms being embraced in the world’s cities. Mobility also means expansion of more energy dense platforms, such as advanced lithium ion battery technologies, that directly support those market demands.

"We have reached a tipping point globally in this digital revolution – there are now more connected devices than people on the earth, and in the last few years alone we created more data than in all the previous years of human existence"

Convergence continues to change the way our world is structured. The convergence of information technology and apps with energy has changed the way we interact with the physical world and the energy domain. With V2X technology, the auto fleet will increasingly become a dispatchable segment of the energy infrastructure. The coming years might also likely see movement in establishing a true hydrogen economy with holistic support and customization of hydrogen fuel cells and storage across the grid, commercial and transport sectors, and will be showcased at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

These megatrends also offer new challenges for us. Moving from a built infrastructure comprised of disparate electromechanical equipment to an integrated, reliable ecosystem enabled by underlying intelligence only truly works if we manage interoperability, communications systems, systems engineering and sustained compliance throughout the ecosystem. Data is an incredible enabler of informed decisions, autonomy and control, but must be validated and must be effectively and responsibly managed. The US Department of Homeland Security indicates the energy sector is the most cyberattacked segment of infrastructure. The US accused Russia of cyberattacks on the US grid this year, like what previously occurred in Ukraine. And critical infrastructure is almost entirely reliant on energy as a foundation, so the stakes are high to proactively mitigate these threats. The need for additional functional safety, machine learning, data science, and cybersecurity expertise to be brought to bear in the energy sector is essential.

Of course, there is no one technology that will solve all the world’s energy challenges. There is a solution, however: innovation. Continuing to advance these technological platforms, foster new approaches, responsibly consider and mitigate new and emerging risks, and holistically leverage benefits across all sectors is the only way we can be successful in securing a safe and sustainable future for our planet and its people. Bill Gates recently emphasized the critical need to drive energy solutions and scale them across the electricity generation, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture and building sectors. We collectively hold the key to our future, and I believe that we are up to the challenge

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