Tag: solar

Internet of Things, renewables and storage – a perfect storm for utilities’ digital transformation

Without doubt it is a time of great turbulence in the electric utilities space.

In most regions globally, wind and solar are now our cheapest sources of electricity generation, even without subsidies.

As a consequence of this, wind has overtaken nuclear, hydro and coal to become the second largest source of electricity generation in EU in 2016 [PDF]. And at the same time in the US, the solar market is smashing records and grew 95% in 2016 alone.

Then there is storage. Costs here have been tumbling too. So much so that Morgan Stanley predicts the storage market to grow from the roughly $400m in 2016, to a market size of $2-4bn by 2020. This will have big implications for utilities’ ability to add more variable generators (renewables) to their mix without destabilising the grid.

Speaking of grid stabilisation, the refrain up until now has been that for every MW of renewables built, a MW of gas had to also be built as a backstop (for days with no wind, or overcast days, or nights). However, this too has changed. Last August First Solar ran a tests with CAISO (the California grid operator) to test a solar farm’s ability to smooth out grid fluctuations. The results of the test demonstrated that solar farms are able to meet, and sometimes exceed, the frequency regulation response usually provided by natural-gas-fired peaker plants.

Things are changing on the consumption side of the house too.


Source: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

As can be seen from the chart above, installations of residential PV are rising, as is home storage, and another form of potential consumption and storage (v2g), the electric car, saw sales rise by 37% in the US in 2016.

Then there is the whole digitisation of the grid. Now all new equipment is being built with inbuilt ‘smarts’ and connectivity, and even older infrastructure can be retrofitted, so with the advent of the smart grid, we will finally have the possibility of the Electricity 2.0 vision I was talking up back in 2008/09. This is a smart grid where appliances in the commercial or residential worlds can ‘listen’ for pricing signals from the grid, and adjust their behaviour accordingly, taking in electricity when it is plentiful, and switching to alternative sources/lowering consumption when electricity is in high demand.

With the cost of generation dropping, with no end in sight, the cost of storage similarly falling, as I have posited previously, there is a strong possibility that utilities will have to switch to broadband-like ‘all-you-can-eat’ business models with the utilities differentiating, and making their revenue on added services.

Everything is changing for the electric utility industry – and so, against that backdrop, and the fact that I will be presenting on IoT and Utilities at the upcoming International SAP for Utilities Conference in Lisbon, I decided to have a chat with IDC Research Director Marcus Torchia, about the implications for utilities of these huge changes.

We had a great discussion, and many of the themes we touched on, I will be talking about at the Utilities event in Lisbon.

You can check out our chat in the video above, play it in the audio below, or listen to it on the IoT Heroes podcast site.

Will the price of oil ever increase again?

What is going on in the oil industry?

Graph of oil price from 2012 to 2016The price of oil has cratered. In 2012 it was over $120 a barrel. Today, 2016, it is at $42 a barrel, and this is an improvement from January and February of this year when it went under $30 a barrel.

Previously, when the price of oil fell, OPEC would meet, they’d agree to cut the output, and the constrained supply would ensure the price would rise once more. Why isn’t that happening now?

Most commentators are putting it down to the fact that Iran, who were under sanctions until very recently, understandably don’t want to cut production, and with Iran not cutting back, Saudi Arabia won’t either.

However, there’s another thesis which I think is more likely, and if true, oil prices will remain low for the foreseeable future. That thesis states that Saudi Arabia has realised that we are at the end of the Oil Age, and that a large percentage of the world’s fossil fuel resources will have to remain in the ground. With this in mind, it makes sense for Saudi Arabia to make sure they can extract, and monetise as much of their fossil fuel resources, as possible, while they still can.

What is the evidence for this?

First off, consider that last Friday 170+ countries signed the Paris Climate Accord whose aim to to limit global warming to 1.5-2C. Now that we have an upper limit on the temperature increase we are willing to accept, we also know how much CO2 we need to put into the atmosphere to achieve this amount of warming. It comes in at 1,100Gt CO2 [PDF] (1Gt = 1 gigaton = 1 billion tons).

On the other hand, the total proven reserves of the fossil fuel companies, and countries comes to 3,300Gt CO2. Notice the problem? 70-80% of the world’s proven reserves of fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground if we are to keep global warming below 2C.

Now Saudi Arabia has known about this issue for quite some time. As far back as the year 2000, Sheikh Yamani famously predicted that

Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.

In fairness Sheikh Yamani’s reasoning didn’t have to do with climate change, but better drilling and exploration technologies, but still it has come to pass, and in this scenario Saudi Arabia has to race to produce as much oil as it can, no matter what the price, so as little Saudi oil as possible is left in the ground. Consequently Saudi Arabia is now producing somewhere between 10.3m-11m barrels per day – an historic high.

And then at last week’s OPEC meeting in Doha to try to stabilise oil production, Saudi Arabia scuppered the talks, ensuring no freezing of oil outputs. This has the added advantage of squeezing the other producers, few of whom can produce oil at the same low cost as Saudi Arabia.


On the demand side, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has admitted that for 2016 global demand trends are not as positive as they were. The IEA is counting on demand from developing countries where India recently announced that it is going to install 100GW of solar by 2022 (in large part because solar is now cheaper in India than coal), while China is aiming to increase its installed solar by over 100GW by 2020.

And if news of the 400,000 orders for the Tesla Model 3 are anything to go by, there is no love amongst consumers for fossil fuel spewing vehicles.

Then yesterday comes the announcement that the Saudi cabinet approved a set of reforms aimed at moving the country away from its dependence on oil profits. They have seen the writing on the wall, and so while on the one hand they are going all out to maximise the amount of oil they can extract and sell, they are at the same time setting up a sovereign wealth fund of $2tn to ensure they, in the words of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

can live without oil by 2020

So, with Saudi Arabia diversifying away from oil revenues, and unlikely to reduce output any time soon, there is no obvious reason why oil prices will ever rise again. And Sheikh Yamani’s prediction about a huge amount of oil being left in the ground will come to pass.