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Innovation as an absolute imperative

Published February 02. 2019 06:33AM

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” is an often-repeated quote attributed to Steve Jobs.

But how is this playing out and helping to create the grid of the future?

Innovation requires all of us to make honest and, at times, difficult assessments of disruptive trends in our industry.

Looking at the horizon and adapting to a changing landscape is essential.

So, what do we think the future has in store as we prepare for 2019 and beyond? Key highlights from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2018 with projections to 2050 are helping to bring this picture into focus.

The report notes that although there were decades of slow — even negative (in 2017) growth — in electricity demand, use is projected to increase albeit at a lower rate than in the past because some of the growth continues to offset by energy efficiency gains.

Projections show that through 2050 wind and solar generation will take 64 percent of the total electric growth in renewables generation. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the availability of millions to support new technologies for long-duration energy storage on the grid. At PPL Electric Utilities, we recently announced a partnership with GE to develop and test software to manage electricity from renewable and stored energy sources.

This initiative will enable both companies to learn more about the impact of this type of power — called Distributed Energy Resources — on grid management and accelerate the advancement of technology to support it.

This project illustrates how PPL is responding to a changing energy sector.

We are constantly modernizing our grid to better serve our customers safely and reliably through:

• Installing smart grid technology throughout our system.

• Using drones to inspect lines thereby protecting our employees and checking in on the grid before it fails.

• Exploring the use of augmented and virtual reality, simulating substations for example, to train employees before they set foot in these locations.

• Deploying 3D technologies in standards and design.

• Installing energy storage (batteries) to improve reliability.

• Deploying technologies to sense downed wires to improve safety.

All these new technologies and practices here at PPL are part of a cultural shift to formulate new and innovative ideas and test them out. It is what led to our PPL Innovation Lab, which opened in 2017.

Nicole Lacouve, an R&D engineer at PPL Electric Utilities, has firsthand knowledge of all the ways in which our corporate culture embraces innovation.

“In the past, innovative thinking may have been encouraged; but now, it’s required. The grid itself along with customer expectations and services are changing. As the technical curators and long-term asset planners of the grid, our teams must have the vision to support this new energy future. Our success depends on it, and we know it,” Lacouve said.

All of this is certainly energizing us.

If I had one wish for 2019 at PPL, it would be to continue pushing the boundaries on what is possible. Because, just like Steve Jobs also said, “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity — not a threat.”

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