Top 4 Technology Innovations For Energy Companies In 2019

2nd December 2019

Written by Nicolas Van Lierde





In 2019, the energy industry witnessed a more prominent step towards a digital transformation.

While previously the digital technologies of social, mobile, analytics and cloud (known also as SMAC) may have acted in isolation of the wider organisation, their integration to the technology core of a business has become paramount to the development of the industry as a whole. Increasing pressure from investors to see greater returns, external scrutiny from environmental activists for climate friendly actions and changing customer expectations towards costs and value is demanding that the energy industry start investing in new innovations today. However, the rewards for this investment have seen increases in profitability, reduced down time and increased operational efficiencies. 

Technology innovation does not evolve in a vacuum. 

According to a report released earlier this year by the International Energy Agency in association with the G20, “The structure of the market, public support for entrepreneurship, and direct government investment all influence how rapidly new technologies emerge and are adopted. This is as true for energy as it is for other sectors of the economy”. While innovation is central to the progress of the energy industry it tends to move at a much slower rate of incorporation, often due to the complexity and size of the technology being implemented. Nevertheless, disruptions have occurred. The same report notes that key disruptions have taken place in the shape of geopolitical pressure with the 1973 oil embargo, socially with a “consensus to retire nuclear plants” and politically as targets were created for “rapid renewable energy deployment”. 

Innovation is key to guiding energy industries towards sustainability. Through refining current operations, evaluating the requirements of those within the sector and meeting those needs, innovation can benefit any economy. Innovation works to focus energies on long term goals, how to develop tactics to achieve those goals and as a result reduces costs associated with reaching them. 

The Top Four Technology Innovations of 2019.

As energy moves from the “traditional, capital-intensive hardware” cycle to “digitalisation and distributed energy”, innovative technologies are emerging that have shorter development cycles, calls for less investment, can be trialled and tested in multiple conditions at the same time and at a greater speed. With the added benefit of not requiring expensive manufacturing facilities, this creates greater value for digital alternatives as they provide much needed innovative solutions in a situation that previously called for a physical remedy.

1. Blockchain

Blockchain allows energy companies to validate transactions more quickly and maintain records for large quantities of data. It also provides them with “smart contracts, distributed energy resource record keeping and ownership records”. However, a more disruptive use of blockchain is emerging. Net metering and transactional grids are allowing for the sale of electricity to nearby consumers. Through producers of renewable energy sources, such as rooftop solar grids, transactions at a local level are being facilitated.  Writing for Forbes, James Ellsmoor adds that if this is coupled with IoT, “devices can autonomously buy and sell energy at the optimal times, optimize energy system settings in a real-time context and monitor and analyze performance of energy-consuming devices”. Together they can have a deep effect on the energy industry and systems. 

2. Energy Storage

For countries regularly impacted by uncontrollable forces such as the weather, securing a steadier power supply is essential to a stable economy. Energy storage is viewed as the key to levelling the need for power versus the available reserves. The employment of batteries in renewable energy systems is proving an effective energy storage solution in both commercial and residential areas. For example, in Barbados, amid a concerted move towards greater renewable energy use, companies are extending the lifespan of old electric car batteries and repurposing them as energy storage for the main grid. It is estimated, as the technology continues to innovate, that energy storage will become more accessible and affordable, constituting the central element of new energy technologies.

3. Microgrids & AI

A Microgrid is a localised energy grid that functions either independently or as part of a larger, standard grid. In an effort to transition to renewable energy, Microgrids with their energy independence, efficiency and protection during emergencies, are being recognised as the most affordable option. Emerging within this framework is Intelligent Energy Storage, which combines Microgrid and energy storage with AI. Through the collating and consolidating of large quantities of data from smart sensors, this smart energy storage system is able to make informed decisions regarding distributing energy resources. This will result in the creation of key micro-grids, that will oversee local energy requirements, ensuring power is supplied between local communities, despite the impact of severe weather environments on the greater power system.

4. Smart Renewable Cities

Smart renewable cities are emerging as city living moves towards creating more sustainability and a better quality of life for its inhabitants. Their dynamic and smart strategies involve connecting to sensor technology and data analytics, using the more popular solar and wind energy to power their goals. Marlene Motkya, Deloitte’s Global Energy Renewable Leader, is encouraged and believes “solar and wind are at the intersection of these goals because they contribute to depollution, decarbonisation and resilience when implementing clean electric mobility, economic empowerment and business growth”. Collaboration is encouraged between local energy companies and city departments to implement some of these initiatives, such as establishing energy efficiency programs that set carbon reduction and renewable energy targets, building energy management solutions, creating more electric charging facilities and introducing smart street lighting.  

Where is innovation taking us? 

In what is often defined as a post - digital era, a time with growing customer and societal expectations, industry leaders are already one step ahead. They’re focusing on the digital ecosystems of the future and the latest technological advances coming to the fore. “Solar photovoltaics (PV), electric mobility, further advances in energy storage and information and communication technologies” are what are on the cusp of 2020. That said, post digital does not signal the end of digital. In fact, at the core of innovation and the development of new solutions is the bringing together of different areas, such as energy and the digital sector. While cost reduction will always remain a fundamental aspect of any form of innovation, the call for low-carbon technologies is becoming more widespread. Ensuring a self-sustaining nature to their growth helps speed up the ‘scale up’ of low carbon technology, separating them from fossil fuel price volatility and providing a more sustainable outlook for energy companies for the future.

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