Gene Wolf
Dec Editorial Balloon Fiesta G Wolf

Optimism for the Energy Industry in 2022

Nov. 9, 2021
When you throw in self-managing technologies, assets with conditional awareness, smart distribution management platforms, it’s easy to see how this explosion of technology has everyone scratching their heads. Figuring out what’s next is a challenge.

Well, 2021 is almost in our rearview mirrors and I’m optimistic that 2022 will be much better. If you remember, last year I introduced you to the New Mexico tradition of Zozobra in the December 2020 “Charging Ahead” editorial (see https://tdworld.com/21149469). I explained that in New Mexico we write down all the year’s troubles and worries on scraps of paper. They get stuffed into the Zozobra effigy and burned. It’s more than symbolic; we do it because it’s uplifting.

Granted, 2021 has been somewhat of an improvement over 2020, we still need positive spirit lifting events. The delta variant has thrown everyone a curve ball, and once again we stuffed the 2021 Zozobra with our worries and troubles. This year, however, the event took place with a live audience, which was really encouraging. Well, there’s another uplifting New Mexico tradition that came back as a live event this year.

Balloons & Power Lines Don’t Mix

It’s the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which was canceled last year, but it too is back. It is another fall tradition designed to raise spirits. And like Zozobra, there is a strong connection between the International Balloon Fiesta and our industry through the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). PNM wants to make sure that everyone knows that when power lines and balloons tangle, it isn’t good for anyone.

With 500-plus hot air balloons and pilots from around the world, there is the potential for problems. Because of the dangers, PNM conducted a safety demonstration for balloon pilots before the start of the Fiesta. They also work with first responders and provide public service messages to the media warning the public to stay away from balloons tangled in power lines since the power line may still be energized.

In addition, PNM also strategically places line crews and their equipment around the metropolitan area to quickly assist with any mishaps that may occur. On a lighter side, the breakfast burrito was invented at the Balloon Fiesta in the early 1970s. As a former utility substation engineer, I can attest that these culinary delights have become a basic necessity whenever an early morning substation site meeting is scheduled in the southwest.

While I was watching the TV coverage of 2021 Fiesta, a commentator starting talking with a pilot about radio controled (RC) hot air balloons. That was something new. Turns out an RC exhibition was scheduled for fiesta goers later that day. I was familiar with RC airplanes but not hot air balloons. RC balloon technology is growing. They’re about a one quarter scale model of the full sized balloons. Digital technology has moved into hot air ballooning, and it sounded like a lot of fun.

Where’s Technology Going

The discussion moved on to predictions concerning the RC balloons and some other new technologies for balloons. The technical discussion started me thinking about digital technology developments for the grid in 2022. Now I’ve never been good at predictions, but I’d be willing to bet we are going to see some amazing combinations in technologies that have been the subject of past “Charging Ahead” articles.

A good example is the second-life applications for electric vehicle (EV) batteries. With all the EVs on the road, there are going to be a lot of second-life EV batteries available. Repurposing them for energy storage systems has been catching on. Customers have been slowly combining them with their rooftop solar systems for solar-plus-storage applications. It started out as a way to balance the peak solar production with customer peak energy demand.

It wasn’t long until it morphed into what has been called microgrids in a box. That’s caught the attention of aggregators who are seeking a way to take advantage of FERC’s ancillary service changes. In effect, these behind-the-meter (BTM) distributive energy resources (DERs) generate electricity and cash. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see it’s only a matter of time before narrow artificial intelligence is added to the mix and aggregated BTM DERS will become virtual power plants.

Second-life EV battery applications are only a small portion of the technological building blocks available to the power delivery system. When you throw in self-managing technologies, assets with conditional awareness, smart distribution management platforms, it’s easy to see how this explosion of technology has everyone scratching their heads. Figuring out what’s next is a challenge and staying on top of it is demanding. I can’t wait to see what 2022 brings!

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