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The future of the electricity grid

Tom Mosseau

Smart grids are critical to the future of distribution. In our Future of Energy report, they are identified as the key enablers for other technological developments across the grid. Decentralized and variable renewable energy sources (RES) and new intensive electric usages such as Electric Vehicle (EV) charging are going to trigger the development of smart grids for the distribution sector.

Smart-grid technologies can handle the more complex power flows of the modern grid. They allow direct participation by consumers, accommodate all types of generation and storage options, enable new products, services, and markets, provide power quality for the digital economy, optimize asset utilization and operational efficiency, anticipate and respond to system disturbances, and operate resiliently against attack and natural disaster.

Some world-leading Distribution System Operators (DSOs) will launch smart-grid-at-scale programs over 2020. There will be different roadmaps but all will have at least one or two decades of investment. The assumption is most advanced players will reach full deployment in the 2040s and 2050s, when the vast majority of grid operators will join. And regulation change will be needed to move grids from copper to more fiber.

New or completely refurbished districts and developing countries with energy-efficient buildings and large-scale local generation or self-consumption will find it makes sense to increase the number of microgrids instead of changing and developing existing networks. This can also work for large consumers developing energy autonomy, such as campuses, hospitals, and large industrial plants.

This type of competition and the drive to cleaner energy means there is a huge impetus behind energy efficiency and full decentralization. They are the ingredients for a big disruptive shift to a smart energy flex at many levels. It is probably true that we won’t see this by 2040, but it will find footing in limited areas before then.

The two coming decades should see smart grid at scale deployed in developed economies with dominant and large grid operators. For developing economies and islands, multiple consumption zones will be threatened by microgrids and could signal the decline of centralized infrastructures.

A global disruption via smart energy flex may be possible after 2040 or become the paradigm for newly constructed generation and consumption assets in localized areas.

The future of the grid depends on technological advances and how energy providers adapt to the changing market. Smart grids hold the potential to help deliver power and support sustainability goals. They will be ready to handle the demands of the future.

Tom Mosseau is a Vice President at Capgemini as part of the Energy & Utilities practice in North America. He currently manages a large, multi-year services agreement for a leading Canadian electricity transmission and distribution utility. He can be reached at

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