Energy systems have traditionally worked as isolated systems. Every large energy organization has put in place multiple technologies and enterprise level systems to manage energy. Non-energy companies may not have put adequate focus on energy. Small companies, buildings and individual home also have got some energy management systems in place. Of late, new systems based on cloud technologies have emerged which are making it possible for the home and small enterprises to manage their energy more effectively.
Most of these systems are still islands. They rarely interact with each other (unless they belong to same organization). We expect this to change significantly in the years to come.
"In future different technologies and different system would be able to exchange information on an energy information highway or internet of energy"
On one hand, there are concerns with the environmental impact of conventional energy necessitating energy efficiency and on the other hand, the emergence of renewable technology (which can be based on distributed generation, is not 24/7 generation and has lot of uncertainty) demands newer systems and processes to manage energy.
The conventional energy management systems still have big challenges such as complexities of intelligent information processing and inadequate information availability to people not engaged in a job to manage energy but have an equally important role to play in energy management.
The technologies such as smart grid etc. are evolving to meet some of these challenges. Increasingly, we are looking at smart cities’ technologies which go much beyond energy management.
There are some very interesting technological developments such as social networks and internet of things technologies which would have profound effects on energy management. Where is it all leading us to?
Collaborative Energy Eco-systems
We believe that this would lead to (or is already leading to) collaborative energy management eco-system. It could also be termed as ‘internet of energy’.
An internet of energy would be an extremely complex and dynamic system. It is expected to be more complex than traditional internet because it would involve structured data.
How is it expected to work? We yet do not know how these systems would work eventually. We can however predict some of the key features of these systems.
They would include collaborative frameworks and would enable intelligent appliance level management (Internet of Things) and energy information exchange.
Collaborative Energy Frameworks
The new energy systems would not be islands. They would rather be collaborative. There would be systems or rather frameworks which would allow access to technology providers, service providers and users. Technology providers would provide components which can be plugged on to these frameworks. Same system or framework could be used by multiple service providers to reach a common client (quite similar to how common wired network can be used by multiple suppliers to distribute energy). One of the key reasons of this is a realization that energy networks are far more complex than traditional distribution networks. Better energy management does not only mean better energy distribution but also energy usage. Energy distribution and energy usage are very closed linked but the utility companies do not really have power to control energy usage.
It would be the companies providing such technology frameworks, which would have client ownership rather than utility companies.
Intelligent Appliance Management
Traditionally only the meters were expected to be smart. But now we expect all appliances to be smart that is electric / hybrid vehicle, batteries / UPS, lighting, electronic appliances such as heaters/ coolers / air-conditioners, freezers, refrigerators. The users would like to monitor and control these devices over the internet. Life-style management may be the real cause of such appliance management / control, energy would also play its bit. The important thing is that it would be a democratic system. All of your appliances would be coming from different vendors. All of your appliances would follow different protocols. All of these appliances would be evolving continuously. But the critical thing is that all the appliances would be smart. As collaborative systems (already discussed) become prevalent and information exchange (to be discussed) becomes possible, intelligent appliance management would get a big fillip and would be a significant component of energy management.
Energy Information Exchange
The multiple frameworks and multiple systems would need to exchange structured information about energy. How would they do so?
The technologies would emerge which would allow the energy data to be shared across different systems and frameworks. Imagine, a user needs energy price feeds to manage its electric vehicle charging frequency. Today, such a system would be developed with considerable effort as the interfaces need to be customized for different use cases and for different clients. We expect this to change significantly. We would soon be looking at a scenario where data feeds/information feeds are going to be available about all aspects of energy. The different technologies and different system would then be able to exchange information on an energy information highway (or internet of energy).
Of course, there would be issues related with privacy of data. But a large number of users would allow restricted use of information exchange especially where it would be for their benefit.
How would these technologies and system impact the current technology providers? We are already looking at a scenario where the IBM’s or SAP’s of the world are becoming technology framework providers. Companies such as Google and Microsoft have dabbled into related concepts. They were probably little ahead of time earlier as the technologies were not mature enough. Some of the companies have already created branding to more towards such systems. IBM’s smarter planet is one such branding.
The real game changers though would be newer companies which would revolutionize energy management (a little bit similar to what Facebook and Twitter have accomplished for social network and what Amazon has accomplished for e-commerce).