How Automation Technology Is Essential to the Future of Efficient Energy Production, Use, and Storage

Many countries are promoting renewable energy sources, encouraging sustainable transportation, and adopting innovative technologies to achieve their energy efficiency goals, mitigate climate change, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7) aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030, with an emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Multiple nation-level initiatives and strategies are aimed at improving the efficient use of energy in various sectors.

A multitude of approaches are being used to respond to the global demands for energy efficiency, including:

  • Energy Mix. There is a significant global shift toward renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. These sources are becoming more cost-competitive and are being adopted to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate climate change. This also helps diversify the energy mix to reduce dependence on a single energy source, which in turn helps enhance energy security and reduce vulnerability to supply disruptions.
  • Decentralized and Distributed Generation. Distributed energy resources, including rooftop solar panels, small wind turbines, and community-based projects, are becoming more prevalent. This trend reduces reliance on centralized power plants and enhances energy resilience. One example is the U.S. government’s introduction of the Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund (PR-ERF) to support Puerto Rico’s grid resilience efforts and the goal of meeting 100% of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2050. More than $450 million is targeted specifically at introducing rooftop solar and battery storage installations across the region, with a focus to reach and support Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable residents.
  • Storage Technology. Advancements in battery technology and other innovative storage solutions like hydro, compressed air energy, and thermal are being explored for various applications. Energy storage is critical to integrating large amounts of wind and solar power into the grid. According to BloombergNEF, energy storage installations are set to exceed 15 times the online capacity of 2021 by the end of 2030. The U.S. and China are likely to represent over half of global storage installations worldwide by the end of the decade.
  • Hydrogen Production. The hydrogen used in refining and chemical processes is typically produced using fossil fuels. Clean hydrogen produced with renewable energy or fossil fuels using carbon capture can contribute to a more sustainable future and greater energy security. The ability to store hydrogen over prolonged periods means it can also support the use of variable renewables in the electricity system.
  • Nuclear Energy. This has the potential to be used in decentralized and distributed generation by means of small modular reactors (SMRs). The key characteristic of SMRs is their smaller size, both in terms of physical footprint and electrical output, compared to conventional nuclear reactors. SMRs are being developed by various companies and organizations worldwide, with pilot projects and demonstrations underway.
  • Large-Scale Interconnectors. Multiple projects in Europe, China, North America, India, and Australia are underway to balance supply and demand across regions. The RePowerEU plan proposes the development of interconnectors to provide greater energy resilience and the Western Africa Power Pool (WAPP) already has 14 member countries connected, exchanging 6 TWh in 2021.

Successful execution of these energy production, storage, and transmission approaches requires the use of proven automation technologies implemented by knowledgeable and skilled automation professionals, including:

  • Smart grid technologies, incorporating digital communication and control technologies to optimize energy distribution, monitor grid conditions in real time, and accommodate variable renewable energy inputs. This is becoming increasingly important with the growth of electric vehicle (EV) charging points, battery storage systems, and the addition of more diverse renewable sources shifting the balance of energy sources and sinks across the distribution network.
  • Demand response programs adjusting electricity consumption based on supply conditions, helping to manage peak demand and reduce strain on the grid. Although smart meter technology is widely available, deployment for residential uses is still low in many countries.
  • Developing automation strategies and solutions to support the monitoring and control of infrastructure for newer processes such as clean hydrogen production, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $9.5 billion in clean hydrogen incentives with the intention of establishing several regional clean hydrogen hubs. These hubs will require centralized controls, safety systems, alarm rationalization, and cybersecurity developments. Calculating carbon intensity (CI) to meet standards such as California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) require substantial data collection and processing.
  • Recognizing and following industry standards that facilitate interoperability and enhance safety and security throughout the grid. The International Society of Automation/International Electrotechnical Commission (ISA/IEC) 62443 standards provide a flexible and comprehensive framework to address and mitigate current and future security vulnerabilities in industrial automation and control systems. These standards are among numerous standards and guidelines from the ISA that support energy production, transmission, and storage efficiency and

Energy production that is efficient, sustainable, and safe will depend upon automation technologies and people working together to bring the most creative and innovative solutions to bear. Energy producers and policymakers alike should be focused on preparing our workforce to meet the need for engineers and technicians. This demand for qualified staff is already high and will only continue to grow as technologies progress. We must educate enough people to be well-versed in automation technologies, as well as the industry standards and conformance programs that support the automation field.

ISA develops widely used safety and performance standards for automation; provides education, training, and certification programs for automation professionals; publishes books and technical articles; and provides networking and career development programs for automation professionals worldwide. ISA’s content can help underpin much of the required work to deploy the automation technologies required for the future of energy production, use, and storage.

Steve Mustard, PE is president and CEO of National Automation Inc., and a member of the International Society of Automation (ISA), a non-profit professional association founded in 1945 to create a better world through automation.

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