The Diffusion of Energy

The critical point of mobilizing the energy transition comes significantly from the rate and extent of adoption of innovation.  When you are attempting to undergo such an energy transition, the ability to recognize “adoption” of new solutions, technologies or radically new designs of energy needs to be well understood to enable this to occur and give the market and consumer confidence. Let me explain this a little more in this post

There are six critical focal points of the energy transition that need a broad focus.

The six main thrusts for technological innovation within the Energy Systems for today’s energy transition are:

  • To accelerate the deployment of renewable energy technologies throughout the system.
  • There is a real need to find innovative solutions that focus on the end-user sectors of transport, industry, and buildings.
  • The technological and digital innovative solution needs to focus on the overall system design and operation needs.
  • Innovation needs to increase electrification through emerging solutions on the digitalization of the grids and provide grid-scale energy storage for resolving variable renewable power.
  • To push, nurture, and facilitate different energy sources to provide solutions to scale them up. These include battery storage, solar power, geothermal, biopower, hydropower, onshore and offshore wind and finally tidal power.
  • Lastly, innovation needs to achieve an affordably decarbonize industrial transition

Besides technological innovation, there is growing potential for redesigning operational systems through new services, tools, and distributed generation deployment. There are equal opportunities to find fresh market designs that have built into them demand-response models that can provide more significant differentiation in tailored services.

Changing the design of the energy system can also offer the exciting potential of designing new business models that look to co-creation, provide more flexible power purchase agreements and bring the consumer into the system as aggregators in their own right. Many of these are solutions that continually unlock the system’s flexibility.

The diffusion of innovation is essential to understand to eventually achieve scale.

The Characteristics of an Innovation Diffusion

Let me explain briefly the theory of diffusion. It is a theory outlined by Everett  Rogers.

As we call for more technological innovation in the energy transition, the value of Roger’s diffusion of innovation becomes essential to appreciate.

Roger’s theories certainly stand the test of time, and I want to refer to the Characteristics of an Innovation Diffusion here as it is highly relevant to technology innovation diffusion in the energy system for going through an adoption process.

He characterized these as 1) Relative advantage, 2) Compatibility, 3) Complexity, 4) Trialability, and 5) Observability. Let me briefly explain these:

Relative advantage is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the product or solution it superseded. This is in cost, financial payback, utility, convenience, or advantage. In his theory, the higher the perceived advantage, the faster the rate of adoption

Compatibility is the degree in which an innovation is perceived to be consistent with the existing values, experiences, and needs of potential adopters. As we change our “norms” in energy solutions and our values and appreciation of the requirements to change, there is a constant search for growing compatibility. The more it can be seen as compatible, easy to adopt, the more likely it will be considered as a progressive solution.

Complexity. Complexity is the degree to which an innovation is perceived s being challenging to understand or use. Those solutions that are more straightforward, more intuitive or a no-brainer will be adopted more rapidly than those that have high levels of new skills, knowledge and operational experience

Trialability is the degree to which an innovation can be experimented with on a limited basis. Something we trail or pilot represents less uncertainty to potential adopters and clearly can allow adopters to learn by doing. The value of trials, pilots, and prototypes will also be adopted more quickly than those which cannot. The value within such a highly evolving market like energy transitions, the functional effects can be related to the risks of the dysfunctional. Avoiding undesirable consequences helps the rate of adoption, where new technology has many unproven aspects.

Observability. Observability is the degree to which the results of an innovative solution are visible to others. The easier it is to see the benefits, as real and tangible, the more likely it gets adopted. The epidemic model applies here. When innovation spreads is when it is adopted and valued, and having contacts with users of the solutions significantly helps diffusion.

The call for increased technological innovation

The need for accelerating the energy transition will be highly reliant on organizing the technological innovation pathway. Innovation is far broader than just R&D; it will also come from business models, changing existing policies, processes, and market design to provide the impact necessary for the changes we need in the energy system.

As we search for enabling technologies that facilitate the integration of renewable energy, accelerate storage, explore sector coupling, introduce new ways to operate within the electricity system, seek out new power generation, design the grids for increased flexibility and digitalize solutions to provide further services, tools and distributed generation deployment knowing how to diffuse innovation in these general five approaches becomes valuable.

It becomes valuable to design technological solutions to be able to “travel this diffusion path”; it gives market confidence and encouragement that the innovation story is designed to take decisions through this innovation adoption approach for the solutions the energy transition has to pass through.

Appreciating how innovation passes through its design can help accelerate the “right” innovations and “separate” the wrong ones, which is partly based on this valuable innovation diffusion check. It can help adoption of new innovations.

Author: @paul4innovating

A transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems and the energy system

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