Our society and our economy are more dependent than ever on electricity. Indeed, the modern marvels, inventions, and conveniences that have come to define 21st century life—personal computers, flat screen televisions, cell phones, air conditioning, and especially the Internet—are all powered by electricity. Plugging-in is a way of life and electric companies are investing in digital technologies that lay the foundation for smarter homes, ever more resilient cities, cleaner transportation, and greater customer choice.
Like many other industries, electric companies are taking advantage of rapid advancements in technology and the digitization of information to better serve their customers. Indeed, the electric power grid—the largest machine on the planet—is undergoing a massive technology upgrade. An easy way to think of this change is that the physical infrastructure used to deliver electricity—poles, wires, and substations—are being enhanced by a digital layer of sensing and communicating devices, automation controls, and data analytics, transforming the grid from a one-way power delivery system to a dynamic, multi-directional network that delivers electricity and information between customers and the electric company.
Modernizing the grid helps electric companies better monitor the health of the grid, quickly restore electric service when outages occur, integrate distributed energy resources such as solar and storage, and deliver important energy information to customers. In 2015, the electric power industry invested about $47 billion to digitize and harden the energy grid. A portion of this investment supported the continued deployment of digital smart meters, a key building block of a smarter, stronger grid. Through the 65 million smart meters already installed in the U.S., a digital “energy” link has been developed with half of all U.S. households.
Aided by new technologies and grid digitization efforts, the mix of resources used to generate electricity is becoming increasingly cleaner and more distributed. Today, over one million solar installations are connected to the grid. And, in 2015, one-third of all electricity was generated by zero-emissions sources such as wind, solar, nuclear, and hydro. Today, U.S. electric power sector CO2 emissions are about 20 percent below 2005 levels. We anticipate these trends to continue.
By collaborating and innovating with customers and technology companies, electric companies are building a 21st century digital grid platform to integrate and orchestrate a more complex set of central and distributed energy resources, operate more efficiently, deliver the clean energy that customers want, and provide even more value to customers.