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Don't Need a Crystal Ball to Predict the Future of the Grid

March 31, 2020
Energy storage technology has moved to center stage and has changed renewable energy, DERs, and microgrids along the way.

For almost a year now, I have been writing the “Charging Ahead” segment. It has been an exciting undertaking to say the least. My focus has been about digging into the emerging technologies and investigating the latest trends reshaping our future power grid. The digitalization of the grid is changing everything. To say it has been fascinating would be an understatement. Keeping up with all the technological advancements is a challenge, but that pales in comparison to trying to figure out what the future holds for our industry.

Some friends and colleagues have laughed at this and suggested I better get busy polishing my crystal ball, but I’ve liked a challenge. I don’t mean wild predictions based on science fictional extrapolations mixed with interpolations. I’m talking about the actual technological developments taking place that are shifting today’s power system into tomorrow’s grid.

A good example of this is energy storage technology. About 10 years ago people thought that anyone predicting that energy storage would be a major grid player was a bit foolish, maybe irrational, or perhaps a little illogical, but that is exactly what we did at T&D World. Today, energy storage technology has moved to center stage and has changed renewable energy, distributed energy resources, and microgrids along the way.

Who Would Have Thought

There are many other examples, but I’m sure you get my drift. I have said it before, all of today’s digital technologies are planting the seeds for the future grid, but you have to keep an open mind and always be on the lookout for the unusual. Granted, I have had an edge for this type of investigation thanks to T&D World, but there are opportunities for anyone in the industry to do the same.

One of those opportunities takes place next month: the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) PES (Power & Energy Society) T&D Conference and Exposition. Full disclosure: I’m a Fellow of the IEEE, lifetime member, past chair of PES’s T&D Committee, and I could go on, but you get the picture. I have been taking advantage of this venue for more than 30 years. But I have to warn you, it can be a bit like to trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose for the unprepared!

Without trying to sound like a commercial, for the average technophile, the Expo is the equivalent of combining a trip to Disneyland with the Superbowl, or perhaps the World Cup, and wrapping it up into one event. I was talked into my first expo by a friend who was chairing an HVDC (high voltage direct current) panel session. He wanted me to write a paper and make a presentation on a converter station I had worked on — I said no. He went over my head to the director of engineering at the utility where I worked, and he ordered me to do it.

After that first expo, I added the PES general meetings to my continuing education plan, and it was the best career move I ever made. I don’t think I have missed an expo since then. Funny thing, with all those events under my belt, I still look forward to each one as if it were my first, and I have never been disappointed. I have to admit, however, I’ve slowed down a bit. With the expo’s growth over the years, I wish I could get permission to wear rollerblades, but I’ll be there trying to see everything I can!

Looking and Learning

After all, is there anywhere else where you can spend four days kicking the virtual tires on some of the most sophisticated technological apparatuses available? Is there someplace else you can interact with some of the hottest trends promising to be the next transitioning force for the future grid? Is there any place else you can meet so many of the people shaping the grid? Heck, the 2020 Expo’s theme is “Electrifying the Future,” which sounds like what we started talking about at the top of this page.

The future technology is all around us (e.g., 5G, artificial intelligence, IoT, smart inverters, autonomous energy systems, and big data analytics). Granted some of it is in early development and others need some maturing, but they’re there and we can talk to exhibitors about their status and future plans. This is why I said that we don’t need a crystal ball, we just need to keep our eyes open!

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