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3 Energy Trends to Watch in 2019

Key Points
  • Blockchain may help stimulate renewable energy deployment and accelerate smart technologies.
  • The energy storage market nearly doubled in 2018 and is expected to grow rapidly.
  • More facilities are deploying microgrids for backup power and to reduce operating costs.

The energy industry is changing rapidly. If you blink, you could miss out. Here are some energy trends to keep an eye on this year and beyond.

1. Blockchain is unleashed

Traditionally, the energy industry has been a one-sided relationship. Homes and business use energy from the grid and pay their bills. Blockchain technology may soon change all that.

What’s blockchain? It's a secure network environment that allows for digital transactions between users without the need for a trusted third party to facilitate those transactions. Originally developed for use with cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, blockchain technology is now being touted for a variety of applications, including energy.

Blockchain may help stimulate more renewable energy projects, allowing solar and wind producers to more easily connect with buyers willing to pay for renewable energy. An example of this concept is the Brooklyn Microgrid Project. Unused energy from solar panels installed on five buildings is sold to neighboring buildings, with all transactions managed and stored on a blockchain.

Blockchain technology may also help accelerate the Internet of Things. By allowing data to be exchanged more freely between devices, blockchain could provide a major step toward moving from individual smart devices to fully connected smart buildings and communities.

2. Energy storage takes off

Electricity is typically consumed as soon as it’s produced. Energy storage systems, by contrast, stockpile power for use when needed. With technology advances and the need for reliable, cost-effective power, interest in energy storage technology is growing. The U.S. energy storage market almost doubled in 2018 alone, according to GTM Research, and the overall market value is expected to reach $1.2 billion in 2019.

Energy storage can provide consumers a number of important benefits:

  • Efficient backup power
  • Optimal renewable energy integration
  • Demand charge reduction
  • Time-of-use bill management

The most commonly used energy storage technologies are batteries and flywheels. Batteries, such as lithium ion (Li-on), convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. Flywheels store kinetic (motion) energy by using the inertia of a spinning wheel. The stored energy is recovered to power an electric generator when needed.

3. Microgrids loom larger

Microgrids are local grids designed to operate in conjunction with or independently of the larger grid. A growing number of facilities and communities are relying on microgrids to provide emergency backup power or reduce operating costs. According to Global Market Insights, the North American microgrid market is expected to grow from less than $2 billion in 2017 to more than $7 billion by 2024.

A wide array of energy sources are used in microgrids to generate power: generators, gas turbines, fuel cells, batteries and renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines and photovoltaic panels. The variety of energy sources helps to spread the risk of a disruption in power supplies and save money.

A sterling example of microgrid deployment is the Town of Sterling in Massachusetts. The town installed a 5 megawatt system powered by Li-on batteries and a solar array. The microgrid is designed to provide backup power and save money through lower peak demand and transmission charges. The system is expected to save the community about $400,000 a year.

To stay current and optimize the efficiency of your facility, it's important to keep your eyes open for the latest on these and other energy industry trends and technologies.

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