12-14 November 2019
Paris, France

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22 May 2018

How data and connectivity will transform the energy business model

Areti Ntaradimou, Content Director, EUW
Are today’s energy companies ready for the changes that digitalisation is going to bring? We asked Brigitte Bach, head of the Center for Energy at the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), one of the key partners of this year’s European Utility Week.
  • It’s becoming more and more clear that Europe is heading towards a decentralised future. Is that the right way to go?

Decentralised energy systems provide a promising way to achieve the climate goals, offering multiple opportunities both for the private and public sectors. As prices for renewables, such as photovoltaics, continue to fall, the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is becoming increasingly economically viable. Energy suppliers are well aware of this impending disruption to their industry, which will induce structural change and lead to the emergence of new market dynamics. Additionally, new financing instruments like crowdfunding provide community energy projects with a vital additional source of funding in this context.

  • A number of projects are underway at the AIT looking at how the latest technology can be used to create smart, sustainable cities. How are big data and artificial intelligence (AI) going to shape how we live in the future?

Sticking to the Paris Agreement (COP21) is crucial in order to limit climate change to 2°C. This aim can only be achieved by ensuring stable policy framework conditions so as to create and maintain a favourable investment climate.

  • The AIT is working on various projects regarding the sustainable, smart and resilient habitats of tomorrow. What differentiates AIT from other institutes is perhaps the approach which combines innovative processes with the latest digital planning tools, big data and AI. Could you please elaborate on that? How is AI helping you “create” the habitats of the future?

Cities are key players in a successful energy transition. However, cities are also large and complex systems characterised by different infrastructure layers, planning processes, social norms, political frameworks, etc. A holistic approach based on innovative technologies is required to understand such intricate systems. Digital planning tools help to visualise future scenarios and support the decision-making processes. AI provides officials with information about how people use cities and is essential in improving infrastructure, optimising the use of available resources and enhancing public safety.

  • Security is high on the European Commission’s agenda for 2018, especially after recent events in Ukraine. How big a problem could security become, and how are we going to deal with it?

Security is a crucial aspect in the digital transformation of the energy sector. New technological developments are required to solve the upcoming challenges in this field. For example, security and privacy present major issues when it comes to smart meters and  blockchain technologies. Another challenge is to enhance the reliability and interoperability of smart home devices and their resilience to network and power failures as well as the development of cybersecurity solutions for vulnerable industrial automation and control systems. Smart city apps and citizen participation, which strongly rely on the sharing of personal data, will need to strike a balance between personal privacy and city efficiency. To date, uncertainty in the regulatory landscape generally remains a significant restraint in adopting these smart solutions.

Utilities have to change their business perspective and positioning within the value chain. They must strive to become multiple energy service providers. 

  • Utilities could potentially play a major role, but they have to change their business perspective and positioning within the value chain. They must strive to become multiple energy service providers, offering packages tailored to their customers’ needs using the latest ICT.
    Brigitte Bach
    Head of the Austrian Institute of Technology´s Center for Energy

 

  • Larger volumes of intermittent renewables in the European electricity system will require higher degrees of flexibility to stabilise the grid. What’s the best way to achieve this and how is it going to affect the quality of energy? 

Despite intermittent energy generation, security and quality of supply must be maintained at any rate. This can be achieved by intelligent demand-side management, which also includes industrial players such as energy-intensive industries, and by exploring as yet untapped potentials. Storage technologies and systems, both electric and thermal, will also play an increasingly vital role in this context. In addition, new and flexible price regimes will have to be implemented in order to incentivise smart energy usage based on stronger user involvement.

  • Do you expect digitalisation to help integrate more renewables into the electricity system and will help ensure that distributed renewables like rooftop solar PV are deployed in a ‘smart’ way? 

Digitalisation is absolutely key to transforming our energy systems. The digitalised energy systems of the future will be able to identify who needs energy and deliver it when and where it is needed, and at the lowest cost. Data analytics and connectivity provide the basis for new business models enabling a range of new digital applications such as smart appliances, shared mobility, and 3D printing. Blockchain technology will open up new ways for transactions across a peer-to-peer network. All these technologies and the smart use of data can help consumers actively participate in the energy market and use energy more efficiently, and they will enable decision-makers, business executives and other stakeholders to plan, implement and monitor their projects more thoroughly.

 

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