To say that the electric power industry is experiencing a sea change is like saying that water is the most essential element of life. To those of us involved in the industry daily, this statement is obvious. However, when most of society looks at the electric power industry, they see calm waters. Few recognize the powerful underlying forces that are causing major changes. We now possess the resources to manipulate the industry simply by being more informed and connected than ever before, rapidly shifting the building blocks of our once-modern electric power grid to rely on different sources to supplement our energy supply.
Using Technology to Support Fuel Diversification
The Internet of Things (IoT) has rapidly expanded the availability of information — and misinformation — regarding the environmental implications of burning fossil fuels for power generation as well as the availability and costs of alternative energy sources. Consumers can control when and how often common home appliances consume energy, which allows them to easily reduce or shift their peak demand to better match the availability of renewable resources. At the same time, technological advances are improving the efficiency and reliability of renewable energy resources and significantly improving the efficiency, reliability and flexibility of natural gas-fueled power plants.
Barriers to Using Natural Gas
In the late 1970s, Congress sought to preserve natural gas for long-term availability by restricting its use. In 1978, a law prohibited the use of natural gas for electricity generation because it was understood to be limited in supply and vital to our energy security. The law was later repealed, and now, less than 40 years later, natural gas once again has become vital to our energy security. This time, however, it is the abundance of natural gas that is driving policy. As impressive as modern generating technologies and the abundance of natural gas might be, the infrastructure necessary to facilitate its use is now the limiting factor.
Where We’re Heading
Natural gas represents an important transition fuel. Its use can allow for greater, more efficient implementation of renewable energy sources. Numerous opportunities abound to invest in flexible, efficient, distributed gas-fired generation, but we must remain cognizant of the pipeline infrastructure investments necessary to support our modern electric power supply. Most importantly, we must recognize that the trends we see today will evolve. This will make us ready to address the related issues that will surface, including the future of energy storage capabilities.