At the MIT Energy Conference in March 2016, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz stated that the Department of Energy’s Quadrennial Technology Review mapped out six key areas of opportunity within the category of power solutions: electric power system modernization; clean electric power technologies; building systems and technologies with an efficiency focus; advanced manufacturing; cleaner fuels, systems and technologies; and clean transportation and vehicle systems and technology.
Many technologies stand at the forefront of power-solutions innovation. The challenge is finding the right fit. Moniz noted that, while the named areas of power solutions represent the categories of opportunity, there are many individual technologies to consider. Such technologies will support power generation, monitoring, performance and distribution, among others.
A growing automation market
Automation supports power solutions and has a bright future, according to researcher Technavio. It predicts the automation market will grow by 6 percent per year for the next few years. Much of this growth is driven by power-plant turnover as newer, cleaner burning power plants come online.
According to Technavio, the United States is likely to shut down 41 coal-fired power plants in 2016 and build new clean-power plants based on gas or solar-powered energy. Recently, India announced it would be shutting down coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of 37 gigawatts in a bid to protect the environment and reduce emissions.
“The coal-fired plants may be replaced by natural-gas power plants equipped with critical safety units and innovative automation technologies,” said Bharath Kanniappan, a lead analyst at Technavio for research on automation. “This represents significant greenfield opportunities for the global automation solutions market in the power industry.”
Automation is one type of technology that will serve to support power solutions in the near term. But the ability to merge technologies as part of a larger system is a developing trend.
Different equipment, components, subsystems, storage systems and other technologies within a power system are designed to work in a system. Compatibility and flexibility of technologies and equipment to work together within a system is an important part of developing and implementing power solutions.
“A big trend in electrical distribution is the merging of technologies,” said Mohamed Shishani, Go To Market Strategy and Launch Manager, Schneider Electric, Nashville, Tenn. “Similar to how technology is merging in our personal lives, it’s rare for anyone to buy a GPS system or camera anymore since that functionality is available in one device: a smartphone. The same holds true in electrical distribution systems. For example, the components in breakers are becoming less specialized and more generalized, so they can be used in different applications.”
Space constraints and the IIoT
Power solutions also require space considerations.
“Organizations today have the desire to drive maximum value from every bit of real estate they control. In today’s budget-conscious, bottom-line-focused business environment, wasting space is not an option,” Shishani said. “Electrical solutions that have multiple factors are critical for companies that are looking to maximize space. When considering shrinking an electrical room though, it’s important that electrical contractors consider the safety implications of installing and maintaining technology in tight spaces.”
In addition to space, a related trend is the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). With installed sensors and data pickups, information may be transmitted from a remote location without anyone needing to be present. With IIoT, electrical distribution systems are no longer static boxes, but connected devices that can perform many functions, long-distance, by using the internet. It allows surveillance and monitoring to take place thousands of miles away, giving a whole new degree of visibility to the power system and its operation.
Shishani said, in the future, there will be more digital and interactive technology in electrical distribution. End-users will have a new “level of visibility” in viewing their infrastructure. This can be lucrative for ECs if they can embrace it and see its value in such things as preventive and predictive maintenance—which IIoT affords.
“Product and service knowledge helps to keep the contractor above the competition, enabling them to have educated conversations with general contractors or end-user customers,” said Carla Brecht, business development manager, field services, Schneider Electric. “For those contractors providing a total solution, a partnership with a manufacturer’s service team will become paramount in the near future. Partnerships with factory-trained experts provides peace of mind for the contractor, which is, in turn, delivered to the customer.”
About The Author
ROMEO is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He focuses on business and technology topics. Find him at www.JimRomeo.net.