2019 Was Exceptional, But Hindsight Is 2020
AIQUEOUS welcomes you to 2020! Anyone else feel like January has been insanely busy? From everyone we have talked to, the holidays seemed to have come early and a huge amount of work piled up to ring in the new year. Yet, we are excited for 2020, which for us brings a renewed focus and perspective on the four core areas that matter to us:
Water efficiency and resiliency; and
Utility digital transformation.
Looking back, 2019 was a massive year of change and often in contradictory directions. Indeed, for those who would say “change is the only constant,” last year could serve as exhibit A. But as the dust of 2019 settles, we can see more clearly some exceptional developments that are worth noting and whose effects will resonate into the new year.
2019 was a year that saw increased adoption and pursuit of decarbonization (reduction of carbon emissions associated with energy consumption).
When New York State passed its Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in July, it joined Maine, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, California, New Jersey and Hawaii in passing “substantive clean energy policies.”
According to David Hochschild, Chair of the California Energy Commission who presented at the California Community Choice Aggregator Annual Meeting,”nearly 30% of Americans now live in a community that is going to clean energy.”
In pursuit of this goal, a number of communities in California have passed “electrification reach codes” that require 100%-electric new construction, so that new homes and buildings will use lower- or zero-carbon electricity in place of natural gas.
Auto manufacturers are also expanding and diversifying the number and models of electric cars that will be available to consumers, promoting the decarbonization of the transportation sector.
The pursuit of decarbonization comes with challenges.
Dr. Ari Gold Parker of Energy and Environmental Economics gave a great presentation on “GHG Emissions Accounting for Deep Decarbonization” showing that added customer-sited photovoltaic power may only be offsetting already low-carbon electricity in California, whereas true decarbonization requires zero-carbon baseload sources.
California also struggled with wildfires again this summer, although more of the news was related to the blackouts initiated by the transmission and distribution utilities with those blackouts not doing much to stem wildfires.
Given that 2019 also saw increasing manifestations of climate change, continued pursuit of decarbonization and innovations in strategies for baseload and grid management will be a theme in 2020.
From our perspective, 2019 was a teeter-totter year for energy efficiency.
In terms of advances of energy efficiency:
The U.S Congress introduced Senate Bill 2288, the American Energy Efficiency Act of 2019, which would amend PURPA to establish a Federal energy efficiency resource standard for electricity and natural gas suppliers. Sponsored by Senator Tina Smith of MN, the bill did not make it far, but it is notable that it was on the docket last year.
Alternately, energy efficiency was politicized last year as the Trump Administration blocked a rule designed to phase out older incandescent light bulbs. Beyond the practical aspect of shifting products available for purchase, that action created a great deal of uncertainty for utility program baselines, the effects of which will be felt in 2020 and beyond.
Water efficiency and resiliency
Notably on the water efficiency front, The U.S. EPA WaterSense program - coming off of formal Congressional authorization in October 2018 - revamped its website to add a number of resources and also started revisions to its WaterSense-labeled homes program.
In 2019 the U.S. Geological Survey released the 2015 edition of Water Use in the United States. Among the major findings were:
Total withdrawals for all categories of use in 2015 were estimated to be 322 billion gallons per day (Bgal/d), a level of withdrawal not reported since before 1970.
Total withdrawals in 2015 were 9 percent less than in 2010, continuing a sharp but steady downward trend since 2005.
Freshwater withdrawals were also 9 percent less than in 2015.
Despite increased rainfall, 2019 also saw a “Flash Drought” in the Southeastern United States in September 2019. Extreme dryness combined with hot temperatures put a lot of the country into drought status despite coming off of record rainfalls in 2018. While the majority of the Southeast has recovered, significant portions of Texas remain in drought, as in the four corners area of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah and in the Pacific Northwest.
Utility digital transformation
Deloitte published an article on Digital innovation to create the utility of the future, highlighting that digital platforms can be “catalysts that help incumbents or new entrants develop new business and operating models … disruptors that open the door to new market entrants … [or] enablers … enabling new levels of performance.” Deloitte’s article goes on to assess how all three ‘personalities’ of digital platforms can help utilities develop solutions for customers, employees, and assets.
One new offering that stood out to AIQUEOUS in 2019 (given our connection to the Salesforce.com platform) was the release of the new Sustainability Cloud. To address concerns about multiple third-party systems, no single source of truth, and no way to take actionable insights, Salesforce released a platform to simplify carbon data collection, use reference datasets, drive action and create executive-ready dashboards.
While there’s no question that systems will continue to evolve in 2020 and beyond, it’s also clear that the utility (and energy retail) sector are evaluating their digital transformation options to chart their course forward.
What’s in Store for AIQUEOUS in 2020?
AIQUEOUS will continue our efforts in decarbonization, energy efficiency, water efficiency and resilience, and utility digital transformation. We expect in 2020 to see a lot of action at the state and local level even as the national election cycle will raise our collective blood pressure with its divisiveness. And we expect the utility digital transformation to move forward with continued investment in products and enhancements in technology.
We would love for you to explore our updated website - in addition to presenting our core products, POWERPATH and WaterWays, we share more about our ongoing industry experience and what we are learning from it. We also highlight our newest team members, Cate McClendon (Business Analyst) and Sandeep Gupta (CTO), and will post additions to our team as the year progresses. Finally, we have organized past articles and research, allowing you to search for past content and the content we will continue to add.
Join us! We look forward to seeing you at conferences throughout the year, hearing from you to learn more about your experiences, or to answering any questions you may have. Visit the "learn more" page on our website to sign up for our newsletter or ask to talk to us.