Digital technologies are set to make energy systems around the world more connected, intelligent, efficient, reliable and accessible. Digitised energy systems aim to identify who needs energy and deliver it when needed, at the right location and at an affordable cost.
But the process will be challenging.
New business models are emerging, while some century-old models may be on their way out. Adding to this transformation is the very dynamic nature of energy systems, which are often built on large, long-lived infrastructure and assets.
Digitisation holds the potential to build new architectures of interconnected energy systems and machines including breaking down traditional boundaries between energy demand and supply. All energy demand sectors are feeling the effect.
In buildings, available technologies can cut energy use by 10-15 per cent by using real-time data to improve operational efficiency. Smart thermostats, controls and sensors can anticipate the behaviour of occupants to better plan heating and cooling needs. The potential for energy savings in the UAE are closer to 25–30 per cent.
With continued economic and population growth, cooling and energy needs will increase and the existing demand for energy from buildings now represents a readily available hidden resource.
All energy producers and suppliers will obtain greater productivity
The oil and gas companies have used digital technologies, notably in upstream, and significant potential still exists for current technologies to further enhance operations. New technologies could improve production efficiency by up to 20 per cent, using advanced processing of seismic data, sensors, and reservoir modelling.
In the power sector, the International Energy Agency shows that digitisation has the potential to save around $80 billion (Dh293.84 billion) per year globally, or about 5 per cent of global annual power generation costs. Technology can support reducing operation and maintenance costs, improving power plant and network efficiency, reducing unplanned outages and downtime, and extending the operational lifetime of assets.
* Interconnection between demand and supply for a balanced and decentralised energy market
The biggest potential for technology is its capability to break down existing boundaries in the energy sector, increasing flexibility and enabling integration.
Energy demand control could provide 185 gigawatts (GW) of system flexibility globally, approximately five times the installed electricity supply capacity of the UAE.
This could save $270 billion of investment in new electricity infrastructure that would have otherwise been needed.
* The foreseeable challenges of a reshaped energy system
Digital technologies that make all these benefits possible also use energy. As billions of new devices become connected over the coming years, they will draw electricity at the plug while driving growth in demand for — and energy use by — data centres and network services. However, sustained gains in energy efficiency could keep overall energy demand growth largely in check for data centres and networks over the next few years.
Government policies and market design are vital to creating digitally enhanced energy systems onto an efficient, secure, accessible and sustainable path. Digitisation is one of the tools which can assist in providing electricity to the 1.1 billion people who still lack access to it. It is also a tool that can help reduce the energy demand of a country by 10-30 per cent and therefore the need to invest intensively on power generation and distribution.
* People, trust and finance remains the heart of the matter
Digitisation is affecting jobs and skills in a variety of energy sectors, changing work patterns and tasks with a need to improve energy auditing, better communications tools and cooperation with facilities management team.
Experience also proved a disconnect between a building’s end-users, operators and owners’ beliefs and the current potential for energy efficiency and savings using existing technologies and engineering skills.
Again, in the case of building retrofits and for those who are aware of the hidden resources lying in their building, financing any upgrades might not be part of the plan. This has pushed private and public entities to offer financing schemes enabling these energy performance contracting projects at no upfront cost to the customers and only share the savings generated from the works.
If the identified energy saving potential for your building consuming $3 million a year was 20 per cent, then we could save $600,000 now by using the available technologies, skills and finance. Would you do it?
If not, you and the utility are producing, distributing and consuming these $600,000 unnecessarily, which is basically throwing $1,800 out of the window every day.
— William Avrillo heads business development at Taka Solutions.