We are on the cusp of a new digital era in energy. Digital technology has been involved in the energy system for decades.
What is new, is the pace of digitalization occurring through technological innovation, providing solutions that enable the energy system to be transformed?
Digitalization across the energy landscape is determining the system-wide changes of connectivity; it is linking, monitoring, aggregating, and controlling assets to cause a fundamental “blurring” between who supplies and who consumes energy.
The old paradigm of central grids will undoubtedly continue to provide the energy infrastructure backbone and keep balancing the electricity transmission network, but there will be significant differences at the local level (final point of supply) to trade energy through different grid edge designs and services.
Digitalization brings us closer to the end-user – knowing your grid edge and how to respond
The closer in proximity to end-use (homes, business, vehicles) is the grid edge as the hardware (things we can touch and see) such as solar panels, meters, energy storage systems, thermostats, appliances, and building controls. These “things” are being designed to connect and combined with grid edge software that triggers demand and optimization. Software that builds data analytics or planning information that allows for a new form of aggregation that gives us all a greater engagement in managing our energy consumption and begin to sell surplus electricity through the management of their own personal energy system.
The digitalization and innovation of this grid edge will transform the electricity industry as it can give a choice to the end-user on preferences, what they chose to connect into (power consuming connected devices), and give them a greater awareness of what makes up the energy chain. The end-user can begin to demand electricity sources that are fuelled by renewable energy; they become more interested in their carbon footprint and become prosumers where they achieve higher interactions, growing expectations they are in reliable systems, and offered protection and security in what they engage within.
Digitalization is the catalyst for engagement and connectivity within the energy system. Its value is to provide safety, productivity, accessibility, reliability, transparency, and offer sustainability? It is the new architecture of the energy system that interconnects our energy solutions.
As more and more deployment takes place, providing new connected technology, we see autonomous cars, home systems, and connected smart buildings offered as new end-user solutions. It is the data that is allowing AI and machine learning that are giving us this new form of digital intelligence.
The application of digital technologies is widely impacting end-use.
Today we are seeing increased sensors and use of devices that are optimizing process controls, providing industrial automation, give us smart thermostats, autonomous cars, and trucks, for example.
We see new services on providing greater security and comfort in intelligent street lighting, occupancy, and personal relationships with our buildings. We are beginning to work through the prospects of mobility as a service, remote control, unmanned drones, shipping, and possibly driverless cars, offering the potential for new business models. All of this comes mostly from digitalization being part of the final solutions to connect “it” to us.
Digitalization is about to reshape transportation, and its energy design and consumption need to be redesigned to adapt. The whole smart, digitally-enabled charging devises of electric vehicles where recharging can be more optimized at “off-peak” times
In our buildings, undoubtedly we can predict and respond to changes in weather, occupancy, and understanding the ‘connected’ parts of a building, so our energy consumption can improve operational efficiency in lighting, predicting, and managing heating and cooling.
In industry we can continue to advance our processes through digitalization coupling sensors and analytics to predict potential equipment failure, repair them remotely, allow AI and machine learning to improve productivity through the use of robotics, 3 D printing and provide connectivity both within the plant and to other locations, to manage and monitor production in new digital ways.
Traditional fuel providers are equally applying digitalization solutions
Within traditional energy consumption areas of the oil and gas industry, in coal and the power sector, the value of deploying more imaginative digital solutions can enhance operations, build-out more modeling options on the data gathered, provide a more significant opportunity for automation and predictive maintenance.
Digital assessments of physical plant and networks can reduce downtime and extend the operational lifetime of assets through monitoring and deploying solutions that rely on their digital component (drones, tele-remote equipment, driverless trucks controlled by a control room due to harsh conditions). Applying more digital applications enables these industries to optimize and stay competitive with the alternatives in renewables.
We need to be digitally smart in renewables
The other significant gain from digitally connected systems within the energy system is the new opportunities that the new connecting points between generation and consumption will bring. Smart appliances will enable intelligent demand response; digital can integrate variable renewables (ones that rely upon the sun and wind) to match energy demand response.
For this integration to happen we need to design a more decentralized energy system that can facilitate distributed energy resources, so we can store energy and have it available on demand. Blending different energy sources needs a different digitally smart energy system to optimize options and provide electricity in more flexible and adaptive ways.
Digital solutions will need to draw more energy than before
As we build out the new energy systems, there will be a need for more data centers, building data networks, and the massive proliferation of all the connected devices. The challenge is, as digitalization solutions consume more energy, we need to continue to drive devise and designs to be more efficient and have higher standby capacity.
As we become increasingly reliant on this digitally connected, the energy-hungry world we are heading towards, it is one that needs managing in new ways as we become more climate aware and expect clean energy to be made available 24 x 7.
Cross-cutting risks of Digitalization
As we rely increasingly on digital solutions, we will become more vulnerable to digital threats, and we need to build more significant protection measures built into our energy systems. We need a robust, comprehensive digital resistance to prevent or reduce cyber-attacks or the growing effects of geomagnetic storms that can effectively “knock out” our energy systems.
We need to consider the privacy and data ownership questions increasingly, that balance for the benefit with the “trading off.”
Finally, we will continue to go through such an upheaval in the energy sectors, in job and skill changes. Whole work patterns, tasks, and requirements needed to effectively manage the new energy system will have significant disruption and radically alter how we undertake its management.
Digitalization Of Energy
As digital becomes increasingly persuasive and part of our lives, we will undergo a real change in how we view our energy consumption and contribution to the system. In many ways, digitally is offering us an incomplete or undefinable future, in energy, in our overall reliance on digitalization solutions.
The goal needs to be that the digital technologies we introduce need to help us become more connected, intelligent, efficient, by having, resilience, reliability, and sustainability built into the energy system we are designing. Energy is changing significantly; we are all becoming plugged into a progressively digitally renewable world.
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