Power & Energy Industry Marketing Manager
For most people, flipping on a switch to turn on the lights or plugging something into a wall is second nature, a habit. They don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how power gets to their object, they just know it does. However, if you’re Cory Marcon, Endress+Hauser’s National Power & Energy Industry Manager, you are. Cory is an expert in the power industry and is continuously thinking about the trends, challenges and future of the industry and shared his thoughts in this Q&A.
How did you become interested in the power industry?
Originally, I was interested in climate. I went to school at McGill University in Montreal Canada and thought about what the jobs of tomorrow would be. I really was interested in working in the energy transition and for me, at the time it was trying to get into the solar industry which is where I started.
What do you find the most fascinating about your industry?
For the power and energy industry, there is a lot of complexity and nuance around the various tradeoffs we have to make – decisions on certain technologies like coal is “bad,” natural gas is better so it’s “good”, and solar is awesome except if the sun shines during a time when no one wants the electricity. All these trade-offs need to be made, but people who are really passionate about renewable energy kind of ignore or oversimplify. The grid is a grand balancing act of givers and takers – like a live abacus where the stakes are the fundamental functions in our everyday lives.
What are the current trends the power industry is experiencing?
The Energy Transition is more than just power production- it’s how we make our steel, it’s what we do with CO₂ that we capture from the atmosphere, a whole myriad of things. The Energy Transition is in itself a whole new marketplace. I like that the whole trajectory of decarbonization is creating a lot of new technology or dusting off the cobwebs of older technology that hasn’t scaled yet.
The biggest trend I see is decarbonization and how to move toward a Net Zero economy. The side effect of this pursuit will be economies moving from energy sources that were traditionally scarce or not distributed evenly amongst all nation-states, to abundant. Of course, there’s a lot of geographical nuance around the latter, like if a nation does not have the luxury of land to overbuild solar or access to water to make Hydrogen, but in the US we have both.
What issues and challenges are the industry facing?
In some ways, the trends are also the challenges. I would define the problems in two ways. The first is around the energy supply of the past. Thinking of the sunk cost, or the entrenchment of the infrastructure related to power and energy as it stands today, that’s natural gas, that entire supply chain. From the well all the way up to the gas turbine. We’ve experienced what these challenges look like with coal in the US, a lot of workers displaced, and entire regions of the country decimated in some ways by the shift from coal to natural gas. We shouldn’t abandon these assets or these people in our journey towards a greener world.
The second is the demand of the future and the challenges we’ll face. Specifically, around electric vehicles. Not just the question of is there enough lithium, cobalt and nickel in the world (that we are willing to mine) to make all the batteries. I’m talking about are we going to build bigger substations in our neighborhoods so that everyone on the street can have an electric charger, or are we going to figure out some other way to limit or regulate charging? There is a lot of innovation that needs to happen around the fact that if people buy EVs they will want to charge them at night after work.
How is the power industry finding solutions for these challenges?
I’m a firm believer that at some point, at electric charging stations consumers will see an opportunity to fast charge at a variable rate, slow charge at a lower rate or provide grid balancing and get paid a small amount of money. Consumer-level electrical vehicles (EV) may start becoming part of a grid balancing act, instead of always asking for more power at the wrong time. There’s going to be a market-based solution that will come from electric car manufacturers, industry groups, governments and electric utilities. Yes, it’s technology and innovation, but it’s also the market structure and how we can kind of unlock some of the challenges of EV to also be some of the benefits of EV.
This approach is somewhat of a regression towards smaller, decentralized models of grids like we had back in the Edison franchise days. Local power can still be a regulated monopoly, but clutching to the monolithic approach to big, centralized power in a net-zero world is not possible unless we are open to Nuclear – Which is even moving towards smaller, modular reactor designs.
What do you think the industry will look like over the next 5-10 years?
I think it will be decentralized, and I don’t mean crypto, although it’s possible you could have actual utility coins. Imagine a situation where consumers have a more intimate, technology-enabled relationship between the grid and their home. Solar production on the roof. EV in the driveway as both energy storage for the grid and backup power for the house in addition to being a large consumer. Smart Electrical Panels allow Utilities to offer real-time discounts for throttling down AC or turning off another major circuit. In other words, more of a two-way street so both parties can be responsible for a grand balancing act.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I think we’re shifting towards an economy of abundance instead of scarcity. Solar is really, really cheap to build. Once you build it there’s virtually no operating cost. We’ll be able to take that solar energy and use it right when it’s shining, use it a few hours later into the night with batteries, or we can use it much, much later by creating hydrogen through electrolysis – For a whole other host of industrial use cases. Or we may even start building a bunch of desalination plants for making seawater into potable water as well. Water and energy do not need to be scarce in this new paradigm. I want to work towards living in a world where this is true.