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From GE Reports, October 28, 2015 (link)

Technological advances from the Industrial Internet to renewables are transforming the energy industry. Here are the key trends to watch over the next decade.

Hyper-connectivity is transforming many industries — few more so than the energy sector. The expansion of the industrial Internet and power of Big Data analytics is enabling power companies to predict maintenance failures and approach zero downtime, while smartgrids and apps are empowering consumers to become producers.

Could the energy generation and distribution industry find itself in the same position as music companies did n the past — stuck defending an older and entrenched business model, rather than embracing new ideas, concepts and methodologies?

“We are now in the era of `personal energy infrastructure management,’” where connected consumers are gaining increasing control over energy consumption and production, says Jim Carroll, a futurist and energy expert.

The quickly shifting energy landscape means utilities and other industry players must be careful not to be “MP3’d” like the music industry, says Carroll in an interview, in which he also discusses the prospect of achieving energy access for all and the potential for renewals to replace fossil fuels as the dominant energy source:

How much progress will we make in improving energy access to everyone on the planet in 10 years, with the help of microgrids and off-grid solar and other solutions? 

One of my favorite phrases comes from Bill Gates: “People often overestimate what will happen in the next two years and underestimate what will happen in 10.”

I think we live in a period of time when there are several key trends impacting out future use of energy. An intelligent, connected and self-aware grid. An accelerated pace of innovation with non-traditional energy sources — there are now window panes for building construction that generate solar power. Major investments and innovation with energy storage battery technology. I don’t think any of us can really anticipate how quickly all of this is coming together.

Will renewables top fossil fuels as the dominant energy source?

History has taught us that significant progress is more incremental than dramatic. The key point is that globally, we are at an inflection point when it comes to energy. Right now, we’re 90 percent carbon, 10 percent renewables, give or a take a few points. At some point — 10, 20, 50, 100 years? — we’re likely to be at 50-50.

A lot will happen with scientific, business model and industrial change between now and then. We’ve had this predominant business model based on carbon that goes back 100 years, but will that last forever? We’d be delusional if we thought so. What is known is that the carbon energy industry has made tremendous and somewhat unforeseen strides with increasing output — shale, horizontal drilling, smarter drilling and production technologies. Yet the same thing is happening with renewables — and it’s probably happening faster. In the long term, I believe we will see a gradual and inexorable shift to renewables.

How much will we be able to reduce the carbon footprint of the power industry, as technological innovation brings down the cost of renewables?

The technology — as well as consumer/industrial demand for new alternatives — will continue at a faster rate but will run up against increasing regulatory and business model challenges. That’s why I have challenged utility CEOs to ask the question, “Could they be MP3’d?” Could the energy generation and distribution industry find itself in the same position as music companies did n the past — stuck defending an older and entrenched business model, rather than embracing new ideas, concepts and methodologies.

How will the relationship between consumers and producers of electricity change, given smartgrid technologies, mobile app connectivity and the increasing availability of small-scale renewable power sources?

I always stress that we are now in the era of “personal energy infrastructure management.” What does that mean? I have the ability to manage my heating and air conditioning spend through an iPhone app. In the not too distant future, I believe my local neighborhood will have some type of swarm intelligence — linked to local and upcoming weather patterns— that will adjust its consumption patterns in real time based on a series of interconnected home thermostats. My sons are 22 and 20 years old, and we’ve had an Internet-connected thermostat in our home and for over a decade. They live in a world in which they are in control of remote devices, include those that manage their energy use.

How much will energy efficiency improve, with the help of the Industrial Internet and Internet of Things and Big Data analytics?

Some people might view the IoT as being the subject of too much hype at this point. Maybe that is true, but it is probably such a significant development that we can barely comprehend its impact. Think about it this way: every device that is a part of our daily lives is about to become connected. That fundamentally changes the use and purpose of the device in major ways. Add on top of that location intelligence — knowing where the device is, and its status. Link together millions of those devices and generate some real-time and historical data — the possibilities boggle the mind.

We are increasingly in a situation in which the future belongs to those who are fast. That might be a challenge for the energy and utility sector, but it’s a reality.

Some months back, the folks at DeVry University interviewed me as part of a series of articles they were doing to focus on the new careers of tomorrow.

The future of long-distance trucking might look more like these “road trains,” as Carroll calls them. These are autonomous vehicles that can navigate long distances without direct operation, with a team of skilled technicians operating them from afar

The future of long-distance trucking might look more like these “road trains,” as Carroll calls them. These are autonomous vehicles that can navigate long distances without direct operation, with a team of skilled technicians operating them from afar

Their article arrived online today; you can read the original article here, or below.

Fueling America’s Future: New Energy Solutions, New Careers

As U.S. energy independence looms on the horizon, Americans need to start rethinking and transitioning our own energy usage.

Big changes are afoot for U.S. energy. And when energy changes, we all change with it.

American manufacturing, transportation, and technological infrastructures are all deeply affected by, and entangled with, how smartly we produce and consume energy.

According to the International Energy Association, we’re entering an energy renaissance: Its 2012 World Energy Report concludes that the United States will become self-sustaining, in terms of net energy produced, by 2035.[1] Part of that will mean an emergence of new career opportunities for people in the energy sector.

When we try to imagine what U.S. energy may look like in 2035, Jim Carroll, a futurist and energy expert, points to a few clues from very real energy trends emerging right now, changes which include new ways of transporting goods around the country, and new ways in which we think about energy infrastructure and workforces.

Whether we’re talking about renewable or natural energy, efficiency of use is approaching faster because of the acceleration of science, says Carroll, whose many books on innovation include “The Future Belongs to Those Who Are Fast.”

“Scientific knowledge happens and emerges faster than ever before because all of these scientists are plugged together,” he says. “Which means the new scientific discoveries in all these fields are faster, which again leads to higher levels of production in renewables, natural gas and oils.”

On the Road

The American long haul trucking industry has been dependent on traditional and diesel gasoline for decades. But not for much longer, according to Carroll.

“Energy companies are working to retrofit long-distance trucks for natural gas,” Carroll says. But that might be just an interim step toward a brand new paradigm for this industry. Carroll says that technologists are already asking questions like: “How do we use robotics, radar and GPS to link together seven or 10 trucks in a unit that can self drive down the road in a way that is energy efficient?”

The future of long-distance trucking might look more like these “road trains,” as Carroll calls them. These are autonomous vehicles that can navigate long distances without direct operation, with a team of skilled technicians operating them from afar.

A change like this requires us to think about reskilling the American workforce. Truck-driving jobs could potentially disappear, but the need for skilled technicians is growing considerably.

These emerging jobs will be in the management of what Jim Carroll calls “highly sophisticated highway control infrastructure systems,” which will arise from the need to redesign highways for smarter fueled vehicles with better efficiency.

And with smarter infrastructure for highways, there will be greater opportunities for innovating how personal cars are fueled. Many analysts have decried that the electric car is dead, but perhaps it just needs to be rethought. According to Carroll, the renewable battery model, which could take up to eight hours to charge, is outdated.

“Instead, let’s build a battery station that you drive your car into,” Carroll says. “A hydraulic arm reaches in and opens the underneath of your car, takes your battery and places in a brand new fresh one. Thirty seconds and you’re completely refueled and ready to go.”

Reshaping American Infrastructure

The same development is already occurring in many American industries: Think about how manufacturing jobs have shifted from assembly lines to technologically advanced robotics. Or how advanced oil drilling methodologies—hydraulic fracturing or horizontal drilling—have increased domestic oil production due to the efficiency of the processes. These process shifts require rethinking whole infrastructures, and with that, a need for a workforce with new skills.

These are major shifts, but small changes in energy consumption can also showcase how Americans are rethinking their energy consumption. Carroll mentions the Nest Learning Thermostat—a smart thermostat that adjusts the temperature in your house depending on whether you’re home, the time of day, and the outside weather.

A smart thermostat would just be part of the future of smart and energy-efficient homes, where frozen smoke—an expensive but very efficient form of matter—could be used in home insulation. Or, in a concept by the New York architects Cook + Fox, the walls of the home may be biomorphic—practically lizard-like—and able to better absorb sunlight and retain energy depending on the weather.

But, again, the future of energy depends as much on such refinements as bigger innovations that are already being conceived. Some analysts predict that homes will be equipped with hydrogen fuel cells that will create low-emission electricity via a chemical process that combines hydrogen and oxygen.

While there are many different views on when the United States may achieve energy independence, the prevailing opinion is that it will happen—and soon. But independence depends not only from producing more and consuming less energy: The next round of American energy innovation is also linked to scientific and technological advances as well as perhaps the most important feature—a highly skilled workforce.

Back in February, I flew into Aspen, Colorado, to speak at the leadership meeting for a major consulting firm. My topic? An extremely customized keynote on the trends and opportunities that are unfolding with the new era of analytics and what has come to be known as “big data.”

There was a tremendous amount of customized research for the event; it’s a big topic, so to speak. After that, I ended up focusing my upcoming May CAMagazine column on some of the ideas and concepts that I covered.

Cashing in on Big Data
CAMagazine, May 2012 

By analyzing and tying together massive amounts of information, we can change the way we conduct business, manage healthcare, work in the world of agriculture or manage energy consumption.

Have you ever noticed how, all of a sudden, a new phrase enters our lexicon and becomes the next big thing? So it is with “big data.” If you

haven’t heard this term yet, you will. What is it?

By analyzing and tying together massive amounts of information, we can change the way we conduct busi- ness, manage healthcare, work in the world of agriculture or manage energy consumption.

As everything around us plugs into the Internet — thermostats, fridges, washers, dryers, industrial HVAC equipment — we are generating huge amounts of information. Companies can examine this information through powerful analytical software to look for unique patterns and insight, which might then help to drive key business decisions.

Consider the energy industry, for example. The NEST thermostat, created by one of the original iPad designers, can recognize you when you walk in the room and adjust the heat to your favourite temperature. It’s also plugged into the Internet — and that’s where the potential for big data comes in.

Imagine the possibilities for an energy company to easily poll how millions of customers are using energy through such thermostats — and to then link that data with a deep analysis of upcoming weather patterns. Suddenly, it can predict and manage upcoming spikes in energy consumption, which could have a direct impact on the purchase of natural gas or other sources of energy. Through this analysis, it can do a far better job of managing its costs.

IBM expects big data to be a large driver of future growth, noting that “there are upwards of a trillion inter- connected and intelligent objects and organisms .. all of this is generating vast stores of information. It is estimated that there will be 44 times as much data and content coming over the next decade …reaching 35 zettabytes in 2020. A zettabyte is a 1 followed by 21 zeros.”

In the field of agriculture, people have been talking for years about the concept of “precision agriculture.” A farmer would use a system which knows, for each particular square yard of ground, how much fertilizer and seed to apply, based on real-time data insight and GPS information.

That world is arriving pretty quickly. Kenna, a data analytics firm in Mississauga, Ont., has put together a system which cross references customer purchase data to weather patterns to real-time tractor position based on GPS to do just that, with the goal of helping a farmer get the best yield possible.

Las Vegas is said to be using the idea of deep analytical research to offer a free lunch to a slot payer who is marginally closer to a payout — thereby reducing it’s risk.

Of course, there are big opportunities in big data. The data and analytics market is already worth an estimated $64 billion according to global management consultants McKinsey & Co. The firm also predicts there will be a shortfall of 140,000 to 190,000 graduates with deep analytical talent by 2018. Similarly, a survey by data giant EMC suggests that 65% of data professionals expect a significant shortage in “big data” skills expertise in just five years.

Accountants are, of course, supposed to be the folks with deep analytical insight. Do we have the capability to step up to the big opportunity that is unfolding here?

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