The technologies that will help shape the future of energy in 2019

It’s no secret that 2018 has been a big year for technology. Emerging technologies like blockchain and AI were employed in tangible use cases across various industries, quantum computing moved from theory into the real world and smart home devices moved into the mainstream.

innogy Innovation Hub’s mission is to identify the technologies that will shape the future of energy so, as we head into 2019, we spoke with the heads for each of our focus areas: Disruptive Digital; Cyber Ventures; Machine Economy; and Smart and Connected, to find out what technologies they believe will have the biggest impact in their space in the next 12 months.

Stefan Padberg, heading the topic of ‘Digital Disruption’: AI will be integral to the future of energy

At innogy Innovation Hub, we’ve already started to apply AI to build the future of energy through, for example our partnership with BootstrapLabs and our portfolio companies Sterblue, Bidgely and Keewi. But this is just a start, we see adoption spreading more widely throughout the industry in the years to come. We believe that AI will redefine the entire energy value chain (i.e. generation, distribution, and retail) because of two things: greater complexity in the energy system and the availability of more data. The first will be a burning platform for those who do not automate, while the latter will lead to completely new opportunities.

Energy grids are no longer a one-way street leading from centrally located power station to a consumers. They are transforming to become an interconnected web of devices such as solar panels, battery storage, electric vehicles and many more decentralised energy resources. Grid management with this level of complexity requires high levels of automation as it becomes too complex to manage in the traditional way.

A key focus for us in 2019 will be the application of visual recognition and other forms of AI across both the grid and in retail. For example, we expect AI to enable the gird to let us know about any potential issues, before we go out looking for them. In terms of retail, we see machine learning technologies being deployed into smart home solutions, learning consumer behaviours and managing their homes in the most cost effective and environmentally friendly way.

Kerstin Eichmann, heading the topic of ‘Machine Economy’: DSOs will be on the frontline of the energy transition

The energy system of the future will be complex. It will involve consumers, prosumers and machines interacting in one system, where prioritising the fluctuating renewable energy sources on a micro-level will be important.

Instead of having huge centralised power plants and around 1,000 distribution system operators (DSOs) in Germany, we believe that each household will ultimately become its own micro-utility, with its own micro-DSO to manage and steer the energy system, handling load-balancing with other responsive devices.

Anticipating 50 billion connected devices, 980 million smart home devices and 60 million charging points for electric vehicles, DSOs will need to reinvent their business and address new needs of customers, prosumers, and machines. In particular, as machines become smarter and smarter and will ultimately engage with each other to generate, buy, store and trade energy and flexibility autonomously.

We have to move away from purely being in charge of deploying and managing electric ‘pipes’ and have to provide intelligent platforms that enable new forms of interoperable services and businesses to flourish in this interconnected world.

Therefore, becoming a member of the Share & Charge Foundation in 2018 has been a very important step for us to follow our Machine Economy thesis. Share & Charge provides an open interoperable blockchain based infrastructure for electric vehicle charging that enables a seamless mobility experience and provides new incentive schemes for off-peak-charging.

In 2019, we’ll be further focusing on the technologies that will be important for the transition towards a full automated real-time energy system. We see blockchain and the entire Web 3 tech-stack as key in the decentralised ecosystem, as it will allow a potentially unlimited number of devices to integrate into an open system. It will also enable the steering and monitoring of the system in a secure, audit proof and manageable way. We will continue to focus on the topic in 2019 and use our Machine Economy investment strategy to answer the questions that remain unsolved.

Christof Kortz, heading the topic of ‘Cyber Ventures’: Focusing on next generation cyber security solutions will be necessary to protect the future energy systems against cyber attacks

2018 marked the inception of our Cyber Ventures focus area, which addresses the need of securing the energy system of the future against increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks.

Although no one knows for sure what form cyber-attacks on the future energy system will take, we do have a distinct advantage in that we know what the future architecture of energy will look like before the attackers do. One of the major transformations of our industry is from centralized generation of electricity in huge power plants, to a decentralized production “at the edges”, in sporadic wind parks, on millions of residential rooftops, and in all sorts of microgrids, all of them interconnected and digitized. Information technology and operational technologies are merging, building a huge decentralized network that serves as a possible playground for cyber attackers, and we will not be able to protect it in traditional measures, such as firewalls, VPNs, and other means relevant to the archaic perimeter concept.

The energy company of the future will not terminate at the meter in our front yard. It will also provide us with a wide variety of products to run inside our homes, not only physical but also data and cloud services, software and applications, informative and life automation. All that creates the need to extend our cyber security scope beyond the traditional boundaries of an energy company today.

While taking strides to guard against these increasingly relevant cyber threats, we invested 2018 in cyber security startups like patronus.io, whose automated security testing technology for web applications enables our development teams to integrate fast and reliable security testing modules into their development pipeline. Or SegaSec that proactively protect customers from phishing when interacting with (energy) providers through different digital channels like websites, social media, messaging apps and more. Both start-ups address key security challenges that already exist today, but that will become increasingly more relevant in the future digital world.

Alina Prawdzik, heading the topic of ‘Smart & Connected’: Buildings will become more intelligent through technologies

People spend 90% of time in buildings and buildings consume 40% energy. Through technology, buildings will become more intelligent in the future. We believe that technologies have the potential to improve the energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions of buildings, improve the use of space, make them easier to navigate and ultimately improve the health of people who live and work in those buildings. In 2018 we have seen available technologies solving the problems of the building industry; including the application of AI, AR/VR, IoT and data analytics among others. Construction and real estate industries are slow adopters of new technologies but we have seen an increasing interest in application of technologies in their businesses.

Did you know that on an average working day about 30-35% of office space is not being used? With increasing urbanisation optimising space already available is an important way to make buildings more efficient. This year we invested in Basking, which started out by optimising energy usage for co-working spaces. Following the “Techstars” acceleration program in Toronto it pivoted to measuring and optimising occupancy in office buildings; answering feedback and needs from many in the property industry.

Easier navigation in and outside of a building through innovative technologies is also an area of focus. We have invested in Placense, an Israeli based start-up; it uses anonymised data from apps on users’ smart devices to measure traffic across many different criteria. Another investment, Visualix, is experimenting with AR/VR usage for buildings. This will continue to be an area of focus for us in 2019.

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