will companies invest in smart grid

Will Companies Invest in Smart Grid Technology? Yes, companies are increasingly investing in smart grid technology due to its numerous benefits and the growing market potential.

The electric grid is the largest interconnected machine on Earth, a vast network of poles, wires, substations, and transformers critical to modern life. Yet in the U.S., 70% of transmission lines and transformers are over 25 years old, and the average age of power plants is 30 years.

As grid infrastructure ages and demand grows, outages and power quality issues are rising. At the same time, climate change adaptation and decarbonization goals are driving rapid growth in renewable energy and distributed energy resources (DERs) like rooftop solar.

Integrating these variable, bidirectional resources while maintaining reliability poses unprecedented complexity for grid management. Legacy grid architecture lacks real-time visibility and advanced controls needed for a high-renewables future.

Enter smart grid technology – next generation energy infrastructure with advanced communications, automation and software to enable smarter grid planning, monitoring, control and self-healing capabilities.

Smart grid investments can deliver enhanced efficiency, automation and reliability while integrating distributed clean energy and leveraging grid data to create value.

But they require sizable upfront capital expenditures and new skillsets amidst uncertainty over emerging technologies and changing policy landscapes.

Will power companies make the multi-billion dollar investments needed to upgrade to smarter, more resilient grids? Here we analyze the drivers, barriers and outlook for global smart grid spending.

The Growing Imperative of Grid Modernization

The U.S. suffers over 200 annual blackouts, costing $150 billion, while grid efficiency hovers around 90% with substantial losses. As infrastructure ages, extreme weather events increase, and more intermittent renewables connect, outages and power quality issues are rising exponentially:

  • U.S. outages have increased over 200% since 2000
  • Average outage duration has increased over 60% since 2012
  • Frequency of large outages has doubled in the past 5 years

Furthermore, NERC estimates U.S. electricity demand could spike nearly 30% by 2032. Rising demand and increasing adoption of EVs and distributed resources creates unprecedented complexity for grid management using legacy infrastructure.

Without modernization, we risk cascading failures from overwhelmed and fragile grids. Building resilience requires transitioning from outdated analog equipment to smart grid architecture with modern communications, software and controls for real-time monitoring and automated mitigation capabilities.

The DOE estimates a smarter U.S. grid could reduce outage costs $49 billion annually while reducing emissions 8%. But with distribution infrastructure accounting for over 50% of grid investment needs, upgrades will require hundreds of billions in spending over the next decade.

The Promise and ROI of Smart Grid Solutions

will companies invest in smart grid
will companies invest in smart grid

Image: credit Rewintanpin

Smart grid solutions embed sensors, automation, analytics and energy storage technologies throughout the grid to enable real-time monitoring, rapid diagnosis of issues, and intelligent mitigation capabilities.

Key use cases and benefits include:

  • Automated fault location, isolation and re-routing around failures
  • Voltage optimization and conservation through demand response
  • Detecting theft, leaks and meter issues through data analytics
  • Integrating and managing distributed solar, EVs and battery storage
  • Enhanced renewables forecasting and planning capabilities

Cost savings stem from avoided outages and storm restoration expenses, reduced peak load capacity needs, lower line losses from voltage optimization, and field workforce and fuel savings from operational efficiency gains and predictive maintenance.

Revenue opportunities arise from customer energy management programs, demand response services, leveraging grid data analytics, and providing grid support services from utility-owned storage and DER assets.

While upfront costs for full smart grid implementation can exceed $1 billion for large utilities, projected ROI typically ranges from 8-13% over 5-10 years. And early, lower-cost measures focused on key problem areas can deliver rapid payback under 3 years.

Compared to leading emerging technologies like self-driving vehicles projected to reach 8% penetration by 2030, advanced meter infrastructure has rocketed from 6% adoption in 2007 to over 85% by 2021 – demonstrating shorter payback periods given distribution grid spending needs.

Emerging TechnologyExpected Adoption by 2030
Smart meters95%
Smart grid automation65%
Electric vehicles58%
Self-driving vehicles8%

Projected global adoption rates for emerging technologies

Assessing the Current Investment Landscape

While utilities increasingly face pressure from regulators and stakeholders to enhance resilience, aging infrastructure replacement programs have already strained capex budgets.

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However, headwinds from aging infrastructure needs and growing climate change threats are converging with tailwinds from supportive policy, technology cost declines, and availability of low-cost capital to attract investment:

Government policy and funding

Technology improvements

  • Costs for key smart grid components like sensors, connectivity, analytics falling rapidly
  • Vendors offering modular solutions allowing incremental upgrades
  • Startups expanding capabilities around asset health, DERMS, ADMS

In the past year, corporate and VC investors poured record funding into energy storage, renewable integration, grid analytics software, etc. demonstrating strong appetite to capitalize on the intersection of aging infrastructure needs and technology advances.

And promising business models are emerging, like Dominion Energy’s grid modernization rate-basing model tying capex to performance metrics, approved in six states to enable $26B in smart grid investments.

Overcoming Adoption Barriers and Uncertainty

However meaningful barriers inhibit investment, especially for conservative, highly-regulated utilities:

Cybersecurity / Interoperability Risks

  • Multiplying cyber exposure vectors with sensors, connected devices
  • Lack of standards around interfaces, data formats, APIs

Uncertainty in Valuing Benefits

  • Difficulty modeling outage risk reduction value
  • Unpredictability of customer behavioral response to new programs

Transition Risks

  • Stranded asset risk and shorter technology refresh cycles
  • Loss of proprietary grid asset knowledge advantage

Such barriers manifest in an adoption lag for software and analytics compared to capital equipment:

Investment CategoryAdoption Rate
Grid physical infrastructureHigh
Advanced sensors and monitoringMedium
Grid analytics softwareLow

Smart grid investment adoption rates by category

With emerging technology uncertainty and constrained budgets, utilities take a measured approach to smart grid spending – focusing first on foundational sensing, monitoring and automation upgrades before scaling analytics and optimization capabilities.

Key Factors Influencing the Outlook

The trajectory of global smart grid investment this decade hinges on several key factors:

  • Policy: Government regulations, mandates and incentives to drive smart infrastructure upgrades
  • Business models: Innovative utility and third-party models quantifying and monetizing smart grid benefits
  • Pilots: Successful demonstrations and scale implementations highlighting ROI
  • Interoperability: Open standards adoption enabling secure integration of diverse technologies
  • Innovation integration: Maturing software, analytics and AI solutions easing integration and amplifying value from sensors and IoT

Jurisdictions with regulatory mandates and performance-based ratemaking models tend to exhibit higher smart grid spending, while uncertainty around emerging software and DER interoperability inhibits investment.

As governments target resilience, emissions reductions and grid modernization goals over the next decade, policy support and funding incentives will remain a key driver. But translating goals into investment requires viable monetization models and clarity on cost recovery.

The Role of First Movers in Driving Momentum

Utilities and grid vendors willing to pioneer business models, conduct pilot projects and shape interoperability standards are poised to gain advantages as smart infrastructure scales over the next decade.

Key benefits to first movers include:

  • Prestige of innovation leadership
  • Competitive differentiation
  • Customer engagement opportunities
  • Input on standards and regulations
  • Partnership opportunities
  • Real-world performance data and ROI clarity

Market leaders recognize they must evolve from maintaining reliable infrastructure to leveraging modern software, analytics and connectivity to better manage distributed, transactional, multi-party energy ecosystems.

Those that postpone smart grid upgrades risk falling behind the technology curve, while proactive players position themselves to guide the energy transition.


will companies invest in smart grid
will companies invest in smart grid

Image: Credit Blue Planet Studio

Here are answers to the frequently asked questions about smart grids in a friendly, human-written tone:

Who Are The Main Stakeholders In Smart Grid?

There are several key stakeholders involved in the smart grid ecosystem, including:

  • Utilities – The owners and operators of transmission and distribution infrastructure invest in sensors, automation and software to enhance grid capabilities. Both publicly and privately owned utilities have key interests in smart grid development.
  • Technology vendors – Companies providing hardware, software, analytics solutions that enable a smarter grid by improving monitoring, optimization and control capabilities. Includes vendors across information technology, operational technology and Internet of Things.
  • Regulators – Government agencies like state public utility commissions and federal energy regulators influence smart grid investment by shaping policies, rate structures, and performance mandates that govern utility spending.
  • Customers – As end grid users, electricity customers have a stake through reliability improvements and access to usage data. Large C&I customers may invest directly in assets like microgrids. Residential consumer advocates ensure affordability and fair rate structures for smart grid programs.
  • Investors – Debt/equity investors provide capital for smart grid infrastructure upgrades and technology vendors. They analyze business models, regulation, market growth and technology maturity to gauge risk and returns.
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Many other participants like contractors, consultants and research institutions round out the ecosystem. Ultimately anyone relying on affordable, reliable, sustainable electricity has an interest in the smart grid transition.

Which Country Is Using Smart Grid?

Many countries are investing in smart grids to modernize aging infrastructure and keep up with energy transition goals. Selected global leaders include:

United States – With some of the earliest smart metering rollouts and over $18 billion in federal funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the U.S. leads world smart grid investment currently. However, adoption varies widely across states based on regulation, policies and utility innovation culture.

China is also making major investments toward a less carbon-intensive, digitized grid and leads globally in deployment of ultra high voltage grid transmission projects.

Japan rebuilt substantial infrastructure with integrated sensing and automation capabilities after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Germany and Denmark feature extensive use of smart grid technology to manage high renewable energy penetrations.

South Korea boasts one of the most technologically advanced grids after major infrastructure investments over the past decade, including island microgrids.

Many other European and Asian countries also rank among global leaders. Growth is rising across South America, Africa and developing Asian economies like India as electricity demand surges.

How Big Is The Smart Grid Technology Market?

The global smart grid market amounted to around $98 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $172 billion by 2026, reflecting an 11% compound annual growth rate according to Fortune Business Insights. This includes hardware, software and services related to transmission, distribution, meter data management, grid optimization, energy storage and microgrid capabilities.

Distribution grid upgrades represent the largest share at over 40% currently. Software and connectivity capabilities to unlock value from grid modernization spending are forecasted as some of the fastest-growing technology segments. Renewable integration and resilience applications are also key drivers.

Significant public and private investment in intelligent grid infrastructure is expected over the next decade across developed and developing economies facing rising electricity demand, climate adaptation needs, and aging asset replacement cycles.

Is Smart Grid A Stakeholder?

The smart grid represents the networked electricity system infrastructure embedding sensors, automation, analytics and controls to improve monitoring, efficiency, reliability and integration of renewable energy. As a set of assets and capabilities, the smart grid itself is not a stakeholder.

Rather, the various entities that plan, finance, build, regulate, operate, use, and maintain smart grid technologies represent the key stakeholders. This includes electric utilities, technology providers, customers, investors, policymakers and regulators with vested interests in development of smart, resilient grid architectures.

What Problem Does Smart Grid Solve?

Smart grids deploy advanced infrastructure, connectivity and software to help address several interrelated electricity system challenges, including:

  • Aging assets and strained capacity as renewal lags increasing peak demand
  • Overreliance on fossil fuels and need for carbon emissions reductions
  • Integrating more intermittent renewable generation sources
  • Enhancing resilience to extreme weather events
  • Lack of visibility into outages and system health
  • Emerging cybersecurity risks
  • Rising customer expectations for sustainability and reliability

In essence, smart grids provide the visibility, flexibility, speed, automation and intelligence to navigate the transition toward a more decentralized, decarbonized, digitized and customer-centric electricity system based on sustainable power sources.

Who Owns Most Of The Power Grid?

In the United States, ownership of power grid infrastructure is split between investor-owned utilities (IOUs), public power providers, independent power producers (IPPs), and federal entities.

IOUs that operate as private enterprises own and operate the majority of U.S. transmission and distribution infrastructure. Examples include large utilities like Duke Energy, Southern Company, Dominion and National Grid. Public power providers that are owned by municipalities, public utility districts or member cooperatives own around 15% of infrastructure, while IPPs own a growing segment of generating assets. Federal agencies and power authorities like Tennessee Valley Authority and Bonneville Power Administration account for much of the remaining share under public ownership.

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This mix of public, private and cooperative ownership creates diversity in grid modernization approaches based on regulatory models, customer types, cost of capital and amenable business models.

Why Do We Need Smart Grids?

As rising clean energy targets combine with aging grid infrastructure facing capacity constraints, we need smart grid enhancements to:

  • Accommodate 2-4X more renewable generation over the next decade
  • Electrify transportation and buildings to curb emissions
  • Avoid catastrophic failures and enhance resilience
  • Improve visibility and control over decentralized energy
  • Provide consumers energy usage transparency and control
  • Reduce operations costs despite rising complexity

Legacy grid architecture lacks the flexibility, visibility and advanced infrastructure needed to navigate challenges related to climate adaptation, electrification, decentralization and digitalization.

Smart grids apply modern monitoring, automation and analytics to enhance reliability, optimize assets, guide investment in grid capacity and renewable integration capabilities, open customer engagement opportunities, and speed outage response.

What Are The Three 3 Features Of A Smart Grid?

The three key features that define smart grids include:

  1. Sensors and connectivity – These provide real-time transparency into grid performance, asset health, and operational characteristics down to the equipment and device level across transmission and distribution infrastructure.
  2. Automation and control – With deeper visibility, automated switches, reclosers and advanced distribution management software can monitor conditions, rapidly detect faults, diagnose issues, and take corrective actions like rerouting power flows, reducing loading, and temporarily adjusting voltage levels.
  3. Analytics and optimization – Vast data from sensors and operations applications combined with enhanced analytics and machine learning unlocks unprecedented planning capabilities, predictive maintenance, voltage optimization, DER monitoring, and other smart applications.

Together, these make the grid far more flexible, efficient and resilient compared to passive legacy infrastructure.

Which Software Is Used In The Smart Grid?

Key software platforms and applications enabling smart grid capabilities include:

  • Advanced Distribution/Transmission Management Systems (ADMS/TMS) and Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS) which leverage grid data to monitor and control devices, isolate faults, optimize power flows and voltages, integrate DERs, and automate grid reconfiguration.
  • Meter Data Management (MDM) software and analytics to collect, validate, store and analyze vast quantities of data from smart meters and sensors to guide utility decision making.
  • SCADA systems helping operators visualize system health, issue controls, track alarms and manage field crew work orders.
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping grid asset locations with advanced analytics to assess risk, maintenance needs and disaster response.
  • Outage Management Systems (OMS) leveraging smart meter pings and sensors to automate outage prediction, analysis, restoration and customer communication.
  • Planning tools utilizing data to optimize equipment purchases, grid hardening investments, renewable integration capacities and DER programs.

Integrating these platforms to amplify smart infrastructure capabilities remains an evolving challenge. Utilities and technology partners are tackling interoperability and scaling predictive grid analytics capabilities through solutions like grid edge software architectures.

Conclusions and Investment Forecast

Ageing grid infrastructure and rising adoption of renewable DERs necessitate smart grid upgrades to provide visibility, flexibility, resilience and accommodate exponential growth in data.

Transitioning from the legacy grid requires sizable capital investment and capability building amidst uncertainty from fast evolving technologies, changing customer expectations and policy environments.

Conservative outlooks show 30-50% of distribution infrastructure adopting smart sensors, automation and analytics over the next decade – an annual market growing from $40B to over $60B.

More bullish estimates taking into account electrification and resilience mandates show over 65% of grid infrastructure incorporating smart components by 2030, for a market size approaching $100B.

While risks exist around cybersecurity, interoperability, and adapting traditional utility business models, the convergence of rising threats and technology advances make the coming years a watershed moment for companies to invest in smart grid capabilities.

Utilities willing to spearhead pilots, invest in talent, and co-create viable monetization models with regulators and technology partners will thrive in the coming era of highly distributed, decentralized, and dynamic smart grids.

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