Leaders adapt to strategic shifts in the utility landscape.
Michael T. Burr is Fortnightly’s editor in chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He acknowledges Steven Anderson’s editorial contributions to this article.
Technology analysis firm Gartner Group defines “disruptive technology” as one that causes major change in the accepted way of doing things, including business models, processes, revenue streams, industry dynamics and consumer behavior.
This definition captures the essence of three major technology trends shaping the future of the energy utility industry. Specifically, the industry is struggling to transition away from carbon-heavy energy technologies and toward carbon-light options—many of which remain immature at best—while at the same time reducing dependence on imported, insecure or uncertain resources. Simultaneously, the smart grid promises to revolutionize the way utilities operate, with direct and indirect effects on customers. As if that weren’t enough, the large-scale adoption of electric cars might accelerate radical changes in system operations and the utility-customer relationship.
Nobody can predict with 100-percent accuracy when or how new technologies might become disruptive to existing industries. Economic, political and technical factors can spur forward or slow down developments. But it’s a fair bet these three technology trends—involving resource options, smart-grid implementation and electric transportation—will continue driving the industry’s direction for the foreseeable future.