Here at the Zpryme content team, we’re always keeping our fingers on the pulse of the energy industry, either through our research or parsing the implications of research, talks, events, and so on that we find in the wild. During a recent discussion, our boss asked those of us new to the industry to evaluate the year 2017 in energy. I talked it over with my good friends Erin Hardick and Erin Autin, and after thinking on it, we arrived at three distinct points.

From the outside, the biggest energy stories of 2017 all revolved around natural disasters. In the United States, there were three large hurricanes and two large-scale wildfires. These significant disasters showed both strengths and weaknesses in grid resiliency to these kinds of events. For example, Hurricane Harvey took out power for around 210,000 Texans, which for reference is roughly one-tenth the population of Houston, and pretty much all those people have power now. By contrast, 95% of Puerto Rico lost power after Hurricane Irma, over 3 million people, and over 45% of them still don’t have power today. It seems likely that the contrast between grid structure, local circumstances, and response efforts for these two hurricanes will color the 2018 discussion around resiliency and infrastructure investment.

Natural disasters are also good for making the case for microgrids. After seeing the devastating effects of an entire grid shutting down for months at a time in the wake of a destructive hurricane, the ability to avoid power loss or at least mitigate it through these smaller or redundant systems will be seen as at least a part of the solution. Expect to see a lot more talks about microgrids at conferences during 2018, and look for coastal cities investing in microgrid infrastructure.

Also, this past year cybersecurity crept into the limelight of popular discussion for the energy industry, and we can expect it to stay there in 2018 as the grid becomes more distributed and customer-centric. The adoption of technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), the Cloud, and grid-edge computing pushes utilities to prioritize security as a primary business challenge. In fact, Zpryme’s research shows 88% of utilities expect cyber attacks to increase in the next two to three years.

So, how do we think utilities will respond to growing cybersecurity concerns in 2018? Most utilities will designate C-level authority over cybersecurity strategies. Welcome, Chief Information Security Officer! This will help utilities build out end-to-end detection response that involves all areas and levels of an organization. Utilities will also look to expertise in this area, and hire new employees heavily skilled in coding and computer sciences. Utilities will also have to implement stricter protocols for data access and prioritization as applications and systems are pushed to the grid edge. As long as the grid become more digitally complex, so will its cybersecurity solutions. Our Zpryme CEO, Jason Rodriguez, laid out these thoughts in further detail in his own cybersecurity article.

On another point, based on Zpryme’s research over the past year, it’s apparent that a focus on DERs is on the rise, and we’re predicting that in 2018, storage will be the area where we see the most growth. Storage seemed to be top of mind for people at several events we attended in 2017. Even at an event completely focused on renewables, more than one speaker noted that we’re still a ways from 100% renewable energy, and that we’ll never reach 100% without an increase in our storage capacity. There will always be times when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

Growth of storage will not be limited to the United States. Mexico has only one storage project currently in development, but the government, under the recent energy reforms, is actively working on creating a market for storage. During a workshop at the University of Texas, Edgar Lopez Satow of the Energy Regulatory Commission said Mexico foresees a potential of more than 2300 MW over the next 10 years. In Australia, Tesla’s 100 MW lithium- ion battery already demonstrated that batteries can immediately stabilize a grid. Countries in Latin America, Europe, and Asia have ambitious clean energy goals, and storage is sure to play a role in their plans.

Those were our thoughts. What do you think about where energy headed this year? What direction shift do you foresee for 2018? Let us know!