THOUGHTS

Emerging Technologies Generate Interest in the Power Industry

Aug 30, 2016

There are several emerging technologies in the Power industry that have the potential to improve energy efficiency, provide alternative power sources, and gain valuable customer insight. Although the majority of these technologies are in their infancy, their future potential is promising.

The Power industry has found itself in the midst of a number of exciting emerging technological innovations that present some exciting opportunities for power companies. Advanced energy management systems, including smart meters and combined control systems, are enabling power companies to effectively target customers and improve energy efficiency. Floating wind turbines and distributed power generation systems are creating potential for renewable energy generation in places where it was once impossible to do so, while printable organic solar cells may unlock creative solutions for solar power generation. Power companies must be aware of these emerging technologies and the potential opportunities that they present.

Advanced Energy Management Systems Improve Efficiency and Customer Service

An emerging technological innovation in the Power industry involves the development of advanced energy management systems. New technology is being developed in order to integrate artificial intelligence into energy management systems to create more adaptive and predictive systems. These systems have the capacity to learn from past activities and then take corrective action based on predictive analytics. Learning from real-time feedback allows these energy management systems to adjust algorithms based on incoming, real-time data. These systems can be used in advanced lighting controls, smart meters, and combined control systems.

Smart meters can also provide power companies with value beyond energy efficiency. These smart meters enable companies to gain a better understanding of the behaviors and usage patterns of their customers, by collecting extensive customer data. As this data is analyzed and its results are implemented, companies can gain valuable insights to better target customers. More targeted communications, coupled with increasingly economical and efficient services, can lead to increased customer satisfaction and engagement.

Floating Wind Turbines Generate Offshore Opportunities

Floating wind turbines are emerging as the next key innovation for offshore wind power generation. These floating turbines are based on oil and gas offshore platform technology, and do not require the prohibitive concrete base that their near shore counterparts demand. Instead of a concrete base, offshore wind turbines require only to be anchored by a few cables, reaching depths of up to 700m. In deep waters, wind is generally stronger and more constant, which is another factor that can increase the efficacy of wind turbine power generation.

Japan is becoming increasingly interested in the potential of offshore wind turbines, as a source of alternative energy in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Japan also lacks sufficient shallow costal waters necessary for the development of traditional wind farms, which makes offshore wind turbines an increasingly attractive option. Offshore wind turbines are also gaining momentum in the UK. In Europe, there has been a focus on renewable energy consumption, and floating wind turbines could help some countries further increase their output of renewables.

Printable Organic Solar Cells are Making Solar Power Flexible

One of the more unique emerging technologies in the Power industry is printable and flexible solar cells. These solar cells could potentially revolutionize photovoltaic solar power generation, and have many unique potential applications. Printing semi-conductive inks directly onto flexible plastic or steel, which can be laminated onto walls or other surfaces, results in extremely lightweight organic solar cells. These solar cells can also be built directly into construction materials, and have been found to perform better in low light conditions than other solar cells. The low cost of this technology, coupled with other complimentary technologies currently in development that will improve the output of printable organic solar cells, is generating a promising future for these solar cells.

Distributed Generation is Becoming Viable

Another major emerging technology in the Power industry is distributed generation. Although most customers will remain dependent on the existing grind for the foreseeable future, the use of distributed generation is rising. Advancements in distributed generation technologies are making onsite energy production more cost effective and viable. Until recently, distributed generation systems were not widely used owing to their high capital costs and prohibitive energy consumption, relative to their output. However, it is now possible to build smaller, less expensive and more efficient distributed generation systems that are capable of significant output, and as a result these systems are becoming more prevalent. In addition, the decreasing cost of solar panels, coupled with the growing number of solar-leasing companies, is providing customers in the Power Industry the opportunity to economically install solar panels, among other distributed generation systems.

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells can Improve Efficiency

Another interesting emerging technology in the Power industry is the solid oxide fuel cell. This fuel cell transports O-2 from the cathode to the anode, differing from the more popular hydrogen fuel cell, which transports H+ from the anode to the cathode. Previously this reaction occurred at a temperature that was too high for commercial use. However, recent innovations have reduced the reaction temperature. By reducing the reaction temperature to a more useable range, these fuel cells now have many applications in industrial processing plants. These fuel cells, powered by a variety of hydrocarbons, can improve both electrical efficiency and overall operational efficiency, without any carbon monoxide emissions. The absence of flames and moving parts has also reduced the expected maintenance costs of the cells.

Impact of Emerging Technologies

These emerging technologies are changing the dynamics and capacity of the Power industry, and power companies must adapt to ensure they make the most of these new technologies. Smart meter data can help companies improve customer service and product offerings in the face of increased competition, while cheaper solar panels can enable new companies to challenge existing utility providers. Offshore wind turbines can generate opportunities for countries lacking the capacity for near or on-shore wind power generation, and provide alternatives to more high-risk energy production. Inexpensive and flexible solar cells are expanding the horizons for solar power generation, and solid oxide fuel cells can improve the efficiency of industrial processing plants. It is important to note that while many of these technologies are currently still in their early stages, they do represent great potential for the future.

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