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Four predictions for harnessing distributed energy in 2020

No one can be completely certain of what the future holds. However, there are a number of common themes likely to be the focus of successful energy strategies in the year ahead.

Forward-thinking organizations that embrace the latest ways of generating and using energy are likely to deliver the greatest operational gains. This means informing their strategy with real-time energy intelligence; streamlining energy production; futureproofing assets, buildings and processes; and more. Most importantly, these organizations will be the ones that are best able to balance economic success with environmental responsibility.

As one decade comes to a close and another begins, here are four ways in which we can expect business’ energy strategies to evolve in 2020.

New technology will drive sustainable options

2020 will see many organizations progress their efforts to decrease energy use and increase sustainability. They are doing so because consumers demand it, and technology is both enabling advances and making them more affordable. This means the journey to net zero carbon emissions will continue to be headline news. Making the transition to a sustainable business model won’t be without its challenges, though. Energy demand is likely to increase in the future, as the world continues to digitalize and new technologies – such as electric vehicles – grow in prominence.

As we move into a new decade, we are now starting to move from investment in decarbonization at the system level (i.e. generation) to something that now needs to be made at the individual household and business level – encompassing heat, transportation, and more. One example of this, which we can expect to grow in prominence in 2020, is fuel cells – which generate electricity through a chemical reaction process that is clean, quiet and highly efficient, with little to no harmful emissions. Our development of a new 4.99 MW fuel cell facility in South Windsor, Connecticut demonstrates the significant impact this technology can have, by providing cheaper, cleaner and more reliable energy to power over 4,200 homes per year. Distributed generation projects like this will open the door for organizations to transform their energy footprint into a source of true competitive advantage.

Advancing energy flexibility with technology

As an increasing number of businesses recognize the need for a more modern way to use energy, many are taking a flexible approach to energy management. These businesses leverage the opportunities that a new distributed energy world brings by leveraging technology that helps them manage and use energy in new and innovative ways. Emerging technologies are playing an ever-increasing role in enabling organizations to control and manage distributed energy resources – whether through aggregation, algorithms, artificial intelligence, or automation.

We can expect this trend to continue in 2020, as digitalization becomes more fundamental to the way companies operate. In order to gain a competitive edge, an increasing number of businesses are focusing on optimization solutions – like Demand Response and Demand Management – and innovation to minimize risk and increase flexibility. Emerging technologies that make use of connected digital systems enable companies to generate and consume energy more sustainably and interlock with the grid digitally to earn revenue for those energy consuming and storing assets when they’re not in use. Businesses are also considering increasing reliance on energy for their own operations and of their third-party suppliers, like cloud infrastructure providers, and ensuring that they are also resilient to power interruptions.

Pursuit of energy resilience

Maintaining a secure, resilient energy supply has long been a key priority for American businesses, since even the briefest of power outages can significantly damage brand reputation, customer relationships, equipment, and more.

The pursuit of energy resilience will become even more critical in 2020, as grid challenges combined with climate-driven extreme weather will continue to disrupt business operations. On the West Coast, the ongoing threat of wildfires in California means widespread Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events will remain a regular occurrence. While on the East Coast, flooding, storms, and winter weather mean power outages are a very real threat. If businesses don’t want to be impacted by power loss, they need to start generating their own energy and making more efficient use of their existing energy supply.

To mitigate the risk of power loss, it’s important to develop a comprehensive energy resilience plan. By gaining real-time intelligence of your energy infrastructure, potential vulnerabilities of critical equipment and processes can be pinpointed, and the business impact of power loss can be assessed. This insight will be invaluable in enabling organizations to invest in the most appropriate on-site generation equipment – such as cogeneration, back-up generators, and solar power with battery storage – to assist in providing uninterrupted sources of power, throughout even the most uncertain of times.

Continued EV development

Electric vehicles are crucial to decarbonizing transportation and improving air quality while also delivering financial and reputational benefits. Organizations are recognizing these benefits and increasingly making the transition by introducing electric vehicles into their commercial fleets, providing at-work charging for employees, or turning parking lots into EV-friendly spaces. In fact, our survey of 1,500 energy decision makers found that 77% of organizations are looking at options to electrify transportation, or offer EVs to employees; and 68% of organizations see EV as a path to reducing fuel costs associated with fleets.

As EVs become the new norm, we can expect customer expectations of them to grow in the months and years ahead. Businesses and consumers alike will be looking for ever-faster charging options. 2019 saw Tesla unveil it’s first 250 KW chargers in Las Vegas, and it’s likely that other manufacturers will be looking to follow suit in 2020, in pursuit of winning the hearts and minds of buyers.

Looking further ahead, progress is being made to embed ‘smart charging’ to provide EV owners with financial rewards for charging their vehicle during predefined periods, when there is lower demand on the grid. Even further into the future, steps are being taken to introduce ‘vehicle to grid’ charging, where EVs feed electricity back into the grid when required – but this is likely to be a development for later in the decade.

Moving into 2020

With a holistic approach and a clear roadmap for energy technology investment, organizations can stay ahead in a changing energy market. Centrica Business Solutions can help. By harnessing a decentralized approach to generating, managing and optimizing energy – underpinned by a range of proven technologies and solutions – organizations can reduce carbon emissions, cut energy costs, maintain energy resilience, and transform energy into a strategic asset that delivers tangible business results. Learn more about the ways in which Centrica Business Solutions can unlock the power of distributed energy for your organization.