5 trends impacting the future of energy utilities in 2017

Technology is having a significant impact on every industry, with energy supply no exception. As consumers find themselves in a position to take greater control over their power usage, they are placing greater demands on traditional energy providers, leading to a number of emerging trends in the sector. 

It's a complex industry, one that still faces high level of regulatory oversight. As consumer energy bills rapidly escalate, key agencies are seeking new ways to improve services. The UK Government, for example, is expected to intervene in an increasingly dysfunctional market, introducing technology to help consumers optimise their energy usage according to Reuters.

We've selected five of the most impactful technology changes making their mark on energy supply and management in 2017.

1. Tapping into smart meter insights

As the smart meter rollout continues, innovative energy suppliers are emerging to leverage the vast amounts of new data available to offer alternative business models and retail innovation. In the UK, the government has a target of nationwide smart meter rollout completion by 2020, while each state and territory in Australia is at various stages of their own deployment.

Smart technology allows for evolution of energy tariffs, moving from flat-rate pricing towards more dynamic systems, subscription-based billing and offering new services through the meter. Support for other smart devices – such as mobile phones and tablets – can further augment service delivery, with examples such as OVO Energy in the UK allowing consumers to manage their account, top-up prepaid meters and keep track of usage on their personal device. 

Smart meters are expected to lower costs for consumers and promote greater conservation practices.

2. Analytics in smart grids

Examining energy generation and usage information in much greater depth, new solutions utilising machine learning and sophisticated big data analytics technology will soon be commonplace in the sector. Providing real-time insight into energy management, these tools are capable of converting reams of data into readable, usable forecasts, allowing energy providers to gauge demand and adapt operations accordingly. 

New tools, such as that deployed by UK energy tech provider Stark, are empowering consumers and businesses to identify their own cost saving opportunities with insightful reporting of energy usage data. With real-time access to key metrics, continuous evaluation of usage and tariffs is possible and allows users to optimise their spending.

3. Further investment in renewable storage

The continued growth of renewable energy technology, primarily solar, wind and hydro, could be considered a trend in itself, but recently attention has turned to a supporting element – battery storage. Research from Strategy& estimates that the market for energy storage will quadruple by 2020 to a forecast value of US$6 billion worldwide. 

Several large-scale projects are already underway in this space. Energy Storage News notes that the Net-Form project, funded by Innovate UK, is looking to revolutionise vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology for the growing numbers of electric vehicles.

"The Net-Form project will yield results that inform how EVs, smart ICT systems and big data can work together to manage and direct energy flows in support of a low carbon economy," says Linda Forbes, commercial and innovation projects manager for Encraft, a partner in the program.

4. The rise of peer-to-peer trading

Much like smart meters, peer-to-peer energy marketplaces have been touted as a potentially game-changing innovation, however the infrastructure necessary to support them has been elusive. Pilot programmes in New Zealand, the UK and Australia are beginning to realise the possibilities of consumer-controlled electricity trading, and the increase in renewable energy storage should ensure there is plenty of surplus to go around.

Enabling consumers to reduce their reliance on traditional energy networks is a multi-faceted challenge; peer-to-peer trading is a critical element of that process.

5. Artificial intelligence coming to the fore

Perhaps the most cutting-edge of all the technologies impacting energy utilities, artificial intelligence (AI) is already being used by some of the world's largest organisations to improve efficiency and reduce electricity costs. According to Bloomberg, internet giant Google's DeepMind AI system has already improved power-usage efficiency by 15 per cent in its server farms, and has the potential to save millions of megawatt-hours each year should it become industry standard. 

AI is also finding its way into energy management in the home. Californian energy startup Bidgely uses complex machine learning algorithms to analyse usage by individual appliances within the home, offering remarkably granular levels of detail and converting it into useful insights. By itemising this data, consumers have incredible visibility into their energy usage, and can see at a glance where savings can be made. 

Given the speed at which innovation moves, expect to see these trends evolving into energy utility management rapidly. If there's an overarching trend, it's the ongoing pursuit of greater efficiency, something everyone should be welcoming.