Industry Trends for 2021

Workers in solar panel field wearing masks

New Year, Same Mission

Those of us that have been in the energy space for a decade or so have witnessed some historic shifts in how we generate, distribute, manage, and store energy. Here’s a look at what we can expect for 2021 and beyond: 

Political

Unless you’ve been living on the 4th moon of Yavin, you may have noticed that we had a Presidential election here in the United States and President Biden has already signed a number of Executive Orders that impact the energy sector. The United States has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, leaving only Nicaragua and Syria as the only countries in the world that are not part of the Agreement (let that sink in). Science is making a comeback and Climate Change is now a national security issue. The Department of Defense estimates that two thirds of its military installations are vulnerable to the threats of Climate Change. Now, as the world moves towards decarbonization, we will see impacts throughout the entire energy sector that, in the short term, will be uncomfortable and will require training (or re-training) of the labor force. As we transition away from 19th Century fuel sources, a cleaner, healthier future, with millions of new jobs, awaits us all. 

Technological

The next 3-5 years will bring monumental shifts in the following four areas; Energy Storage Technology, Transportation & Infrastructure, Smart Grids, and Waste-To-Value

Energy Storage Technology
The last decade has been called the “decade of generation” as new technologies flooded the market and Federal research dollars were invested to drive down the cost of solar energy by 75% (i.e. SunShot Initiative). Other programs were focused on wind technologies and research into biofuels. This decade will focus on storage and we can expect more R&D to go into various forms of battery technology and other solutions. 

Transportation & Infrastructure
Alternatively-fueled vehicles have gone mainstream with electric cars taking the lead. Hydrogen will also see more market share as a more efficient (and cleaner) alternative to move goods across the county. As we transition our transportation sector away from traditional fuels, we will see significant investments into new infrastructure to support this evolution in the transportation model. With more battery-powered cars connected to the grid, we can expect more investments into the “grid of the future” and advancements into Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technologies. 

Smart Grids
Distributed Energy Resources (DER) are perhaps one of the most significant changes to electricity systems around the world. DERs are electricity-producing resources or controllable loads that are connected to a local distribution system or connected to a host facility within the local distribution system. These can include solar photovoltaics, combined heat and power (CHP) plants, electricity storage, small natural gas-fueled generators, or electric vehicles. DER are a faster, less expensive option to the construction of large, central power plants and high-voltage transmission lines. They offer the end-user the potential for lower cost, higher service reliability, high power quality, increased energy efficiency, and energy resiliency. We can expect to see larger investments in DERs. 

Waste-To-Value
Garbage is only a waste product when we lack the imagination to turn it into a resource. On average, our recycling bins contain up to 40% garbage (non-recyclable items) and our garbage bins contain approximately 40% recyclable materials. For decades, the U.S. has relied on third-world countries to prop up local recycling programs and failed to make the necessary investments in domestic solid waste and recycling infrastructure. With the global recycling market in freefall, we can expect investments in local solutions to address our solid waste challenges that add value to promote the Circular Economy.

Financial

Private and public-sector corporate investment in renewable energy has never been higher. Federal, state, and local governments encourage investments in renewables to help diversify their energy supply, increase resiliency, and reduce carbon emissions. With the passage of the CARES Act, we see an extension of the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) to drive even more market demand for renewable energy. At the state level, Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) goals have been adopted to implement renewable energy generation in 29 states, including Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Financial incentives, technological advancements, and consumer demand for renewables, will usher in a new energy economy. 

Green Collar Jobs

We are in the midst of an energy revolution and we can expect the creation of even more “green collar” jobs. Before COVID-19, wind turbine technician and solar panel installer were among the fastest growing jobs in America. We expect that this trend will increase exponentially under this new Administration. Your friends at the Gulf Coast Energy Network have launched a new initiative called the Gulf Coast Energy Academy to meet market demand. You can expect to hear more about that project later this year. 

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