The Advanced Energy Conference in New York City brought together utility and energy business leaders, researchers, technologists, and policy makers. A mix of plenary and breakout sessions were supplemented by exhibits and networking opportunities as attendees listened and engaged in discussion on the current state of the industry, and various futures on the horizon. The theme “The Future of Energy is Here” was on display throughout the event as startups demonstrated their technology, utility executives discussed their evolving company needs and wants, and New York’s ambitious energy goals were continually referenced. Some highlighted topics discussed at the conference included offshore wind development, the role of emerging technologies, utilities in transition, digitization of the utility, and the value of big data analytics.
The future of wind power
It is an exciting time for the wind power industry in New York. Deepwater Wind and state officials alike are energized by the former’s 90 MW South Fork Wind Farm planned off Long Island. With enough power for 50,000 homes, the project is a sign of things to come for offshore wind, a resource with enormous potential in the northeastern United States. Images of GE’s newest turbine, the Haliade-X, also made an appearance at the conference. The company has high hopes for the 12 MW turbine that will tower over the ocean at 850 ft (260m), which is as tall as 30 Rockefeller Center! The conference hosted a wind developers’ round table and included panels on wind policy in the state. There is no doubt that wind power has promising opportunities ahead.
Emerging technologies and a deluge of data
Impressive new technologies were a focal point of the conference as they will play a key role in creating a cleaner and more robust grid. The impact of electric vehicles was discussed in several panels while other sessions examined potential changes in the gas industry. Another area of interest was in advanced sensing; the conversation centered primarily on how sensing can lead to improvements in grid monitoring and energy efficiency. Panelists spoke of 17 billion sensing devices already installed by utilities, with another 50 billion projected to be installed over the next 5 years. The flood of data provided by these devices is already overwhelming – vast improvements are necessary in data capture, use, and analytics to reap the full benefit of advanced sensing.
Can utilities evolve in this rapidly evolving environment?
There was a common thread across panels, presentations, and discussions at the Advanced Energy Conference: an industry in transition. The pace of change in the world of energy is not slowing down but is speeding up. Ambitious policy goals and technological advancement are only catalyzing these changes further. The conference highlighted customer demands for clean, reliable power as a top concern among utilities – this in turn will continue to drive innovation. Heated discussion took place during a panel where developers asked regulators hard-hitting questions. A theme touched upon in many places was the balance of innovation and safety. Energy storage provides a lens into this balancing act: state policies are viewed as both an accelerator and hindrance to change as lofty new goals drive development while regulatory agencies are having trouble determining rules for new and untested technology.
What’s to come
The Advanced Energy Conference provided attendees with an excellent discussion on current trends and events in the energy and utilities sector, but more importantly provides insight into what’s next for the industry. As change continues to take hold, the technological flywheel will only spin faster. Utilities will improve their offerings and services through increased connectivity and digitization. More data available will increase a utility’s ability to provide actionable insights, which in turn will only increase the demand for more data. Digitization will provide customers improved information and responsiveness from their utility. Those customers that are interested in their electricity’s origin will continue to have more information and choices. Integration of renewables and distributed resources will get easier as policies are streamlined and we learn what works. Overall, data is the key to transforming the industry. The future is a grid connected not just by wires, but also by information.