First we must free the electron, then we get free energy

In the future energy will be free: Free to use, free of carbon and freed by a new type of energy network.

As the need to tackle climate change becomes more pressing, thetransformation of energy towards renewable systems has developed rapidly. As new technology sees greater demand for electrons we are also entering a world of plenty, with renewable power generation creating abundant energy; today we are well on our way to a 100% CO2-free, and zero-cost energy economy.

Solar and wind technologies, battery-technologies and power-to-gas – a technology that converts excess renewable energy to gases that can be stored – are all in the toolkit for the transformation of energy. In addition, zero-resistance transmission technologies are nearing the end of their pilot phase. All these technologies provide the building blocks for a future of abundant energy.

In tandem, the way we live, move and work is changing – from self-driving cars to smart homes; from billions of connected devices to smart cities. This is creating new demands on our energy system which requires new thinking.

We are already witnessing a huge transformation driven by the decarbonisation and decentralisation of energy systems, but this only represents part of the radical change required. The secure, efficient and effective delivery of that energy in this decentralised digital world will be vital. And that requires data.

The internet, cloud computing, big data, AI and machine learning have disrupted business models and created new opportunities in every sector and the energy industry is no exception. The energy sector has been slower to embrace digital disruption, which is not surprising in an industry where utilities have historically worked on a model based on an asset delivery timeframe of a decade or more and with lifespans of 50-years plus.


So what role will data play in the energy system of the future?


A new operating system

Tons of data are generated every millisecond but clean energy power plants still lose $27 billion every year due to reactive operations. What the energy economy needs is a “smart intelligence network” to optimise the abundance of data and bring interconnectivity to the slew of decentralised “smart” devices that are being created. In such a neural-like network, every decentralised device, machine and building of the future will be more interactive and responsive.


Smoothing out the lumps

Currently we are trying to manage future energy sources in a grid that was built for the past.

This has pushed up prices in the grid exponentially to keep it stable with additional equipment, workarounds and quick-fixes papering over the cracks. Paradoxically, as energy production becomes more sustainable, the grid becomes less so.

Energy intermittency and overcapacity are issues that have long plagued renewable generation, bringing with them sudden surges of surplus electricity and price volatility. Additional storage capacity and the discovery of alternative uses for electrons will help smooth out these lumps, as will displacing the use of hydrocarbon molecules – including for heating for our homes and even industrial thermal processes.

The sheer volume of electrons in the system, that will be both decentrally generated and consumed, cannot be managed and controlled simply by putting more copper into the ground!

Energy systems will eventually be too complex to remain under the command of human minds. Instead, it will be supported by decentralised intelligence, such as AI and distributed ledger technologies like blockchain, as well as new means of decentralised cyber security applications.


And who will create this data driven energy future?

A lot of companies from many different industries will converge to create this future. Heavyweights from the oil industry have already started infiltrating energy, mainly through utility-scale renewable generation. Environmental concerns are also driving car makers into the downstream energy space, specifically the electric vehicle marketplace.

As the boundaries between sectors continue to blur, the joining of minds will be key to staying in the game. Energy companies will have a major role to play as one vertical among others, as part of a wider, platform business. In a new ecosystem, unified by data, partnerships between energy companies, data providers, agile start-ups and far-sighted incumbents will be fundamental to the future of energy.

So we face a world of change that is merely the foundation for a transformation in the generation, distribution and consumption of energy in the future.

It’s a world that will require intelligent systems and networks, driven by data and powered by collaboration between incumbent energy companies and new entrants.

The prize is a world of abundant energy, that is free of carbon and free to use. That will demand new business models and an end to traditional utility models.

Radical change requires radical thinking and that process has already begun. Vive la révolution!


As a platform for collaboration, co-operation and creation for this energy future, innogy Innovation Hub and Intertrust are hosting the Transforming Transformers event in Dusseldorf on 4th June, 2019.

The event will bring together leading executives and thinkers from the world of energy to examine how we create Data Driven Business Models in Energy! If you want to register, please click here.

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