The U.S. will rely on utility leaders to scale smart grid infrastructure and reduce carbon emissions.
Climate change has captured the world’s attention for decades. We’ve seen countless intergovernmental summits, worldwide protests, and documentaries on global warming over the years. Although momentum has been building across the public and private sectors, leaders are preparing for a new, accelerated leg in the race to clean energy as America positions itself to meet the 2050 net zero emissions promise.
The Infrastructure and Investments Job Act is expected to significantly fast track the country’s clean energy commitments, introducing plans for nationwide electric vehicle (EV) charging, public transportation fleet conversion, and legacy pollution mitigation, as well as federal funding options for companies prioritizing green energy campaigns. What’s more, state-sponsored EV incentives and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s pending carbon reporting regulations have further demonstrated America’s intentions.
Although oil and gas companies and automotive manufacturers have recently been capturing the nation’s attention with their energy transition agendas and investments in green energy–powered factories and vehicles, utilities have been progressing for the better part of two decades against net zero goals, even before the term was coined. With the long migration from coal to renewables, propelled by things like the Clean Air Interstate Rule, Investment Tax Credit for wind, and many variations of state Renewable Portfolio Standard rules, utilities have slowly but surely contributed to America’s clean energy foundation. However, utility leaders have the opportunity to further propel their organizations and bid for newly available federal grants—like their oil and gas counterparts.
Helping Grids Meet Green Energy Goals
To stake their claim in the evolving market and ensure their green energy agendas are successful, utility companies must modernize their grid infrastructures and develop new, transformational strategies while federal funding is still available. With a $3 billion expansion of the Smart Grid Investment Matching Grant Program, and $11 billion in grants available for state entities and utilities to enhance infrastructure resilience, the future is bright for utilities willing to enter the federal bidding process. This injection of cash flow will likely prove to be pivotal for organizations as they modernize their grid infrastructures while enabling their stakeholders broader decarbonization agendas.
But to get the best bang for their buck, utilities need to develop efficient digital grid transformation strategies. Given the rapidly evolving and tech-focused nature of the clean energy landscape, enterprises should initially focus their time and money on the following four key tactics.
Network Instrumentation. Private organizations, government entities, and consumers alike will soon demand localized insights into energy consumption and delivery patterns, and these insights will only be made possible using network instrumentation solutions across the nation’s vast grid network. These specialized, connected industrial communication networks will require utilities to install and connect sensors, smart substations, and edge of the grid computing.
Grid Security and Resilience. In recent years, American energy and utilities companies have been well aware of the cybersecurity gaps that are created when undergoing widespread digital transformation journeys linking operational, information, and network technology solutions. Revamping grid infrastructure poses such risks for utility leaders, which is why automating and optimizing grid operations to ensure stability, resiliency, and security must be at the top of enterprises’ agendas.
Advanced Asset Management. Although some utilities may think their asset management practice is tried and true, it will also require an overhaul to match the pace of other “smart” capabilities that will soon transform grids across the nation. Leaders will soon need an integrated view of their assets, using tools such as advanced dashboards to monitor aspects such as performance, health, interoperability, and system capability contribution.
Data-Driven Ecosystems. Like so many other companies across industries that are revamping their digital transformation agendas, data will be the backbone of utilities’ smart grid strategies. The grids of tomorrow will leverage data-driven insights to power artificial intelligence, automation, and many other solutions and services. But to do that, enterprises will first need to set technical foundations and pre-defined, extensible data models, as well as improve access to data sets.
Strike While the Iron Is Hot
With billions of dollars on the table and pressure coming from consumers and governmental bodies alike, now is the time for utility companies to develop transformational grid infrastructure strategies, bid for federal funds, and reposition themselves in the evolving energy transition market. Although the journey to fully scaled smart grids will be long, leaders who prioritize transformation agendas will place their organizations ahead of the pack, helping their service territories to realize net zero’s full potential, strengthening their regulatory posture, and sharpening their competitive edge as the U.S. sets its sights on 2050.
—Jason Ames is vice president for Energy, Utilities & Chemicals with Capgemini Americas, and Robert Robinson is senior executive advisor for Energy, Utilities & Chemicals with Capgemini Americas.