The energy industry is in the midst of a dramatic transformation as it reevaluates and reconfigures the way that it generates, stores, and distributes electrons.
Energy demand worldwide increases by 2% each year as our global culture becomes more energy-dependent. Meanwhile mounting concern over CO2 emissions, fossil fuel usage, and sustainability have made necessary new technologies and renewable energy sources. This movement is shifting energy policies, business models, and distribution structures.Many communities are considering, researching, or implementing microgrid solutions. The underlying rationale often involves complex business, operational, and economic issues. See our FREE Special Report: Understanding Microgrids. Download it now!
What will the energy landscape of the future look like? We’ve asked select energy professionals to share their perspectives and forecasts. Business Energy magazine is honored to publish these insights here, in an effort to initiate forward-thinking conversation and serve as a catalyst for intelligent solutions.
Erick Seelinger is the technical program developer for Energy Efficiency at PNM, New Mexico’s largest energy provider. He has been a member of the energy industry for over 30 years. He began his career in the natural gas processing and pipeline business and moved to the utility sector after 8 years. He has enjoyed working in pipeline, supply planning, environmental, marketing, CNG, and most recently energy efficiency. He’s worked in all phases of program development, regulatory reporting, program management, and M&V (measurement and verification). He holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and an Executive MBA in Financial Management from the Anderson School of Management. These views are his alone and do not reflect the opinions of PNM.
Business Energy (BE): What will the energy landscape of the future look like?
Erick Seelinger (ES): In terms of supply, I anticipate that future energy demands will continue to be met with all of the current sources. These resources include coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar thermal, and geothermal; and, oh yes—PV. The generation supply mix will change, but my hope is that no generation resource will go away permanently. As an engineer, I see too many real-world issues such as affordability, reliability, and risk when supplying energy demands. Nevertheless, I see a larger portion of the supply portfolio being met with renewables.
From the customer perspective, I see more customers desiring sustainable and environmentally friendly generation sources. I also see a growing interest in electric vehicles and rooftop solar; however, interest does not always result in action. Customers are becoming more sophisticated; and with the increase of Smart or Wi-Fi enabled devices, customers will have greater control in how they use energy. Eventually, EVs and PV’s with smart inverters will become more prevalent and enabling a means to interconnect these systems with the grid will present new opportunities for both the utility and the customer.
BE: What are the indications that this is the direction the industry will take? What trends are you noticing?
ES: In terms of the energy supply, increasing activism will create political pressures; and therefore, new regulations that dictate how utilities source and supply energy. This is happening now.
Regarding customers, the market is transforming in terms of technology. Utility programs have made an obvious impact, and connected electronics and appliances are becoming more prevalent. Manufacturers are constantly developing means of differentiating their product, and Wi-Fi seems to be the new trend.
BE: What policy changes are needed to support this transition?
As much as possible I believe in free markets to drive choice and the future of technology. However, communication and operational standards will certainly help. For example, if a developer of a new behind-the-meter storage solution came along, it would need to operate in a predictable fashion. My peripheral understanding is that not all storage technologies operate in the same way in how-and-when they interconnect. Also, who would be in control of the communications with these devices?
As a customer, I would like to see more open-source standards. For example, will Apple’s iHome and Siri be friendly when talking to non-Apple products?
BE: What technologies will facilitate the integration of distributed energy resources?
ES: I can’t speak to any specific technology per se; but any technology that will enable DERs to be managed by the utility would be beneficial. Utility uses would include applications such as demand response, frequency response, and distribution system optimization. Moreover, if enough DERs could be aggregated and work through a common platform the utility could operate them as a virtual power plant and delay the construction of new generation sources.