Unlocking complexity through Innovation. Placing context into the Energy Transition-part two

Image credit Paweł Czerwiński
@pawel_czerwinski via Unsplash

Energy is in a massive state of change, truly global in its transition. There is a power sector transformation going on, towards a low-carbon, reliable, affordable and secure energy system.

The need is to manage the transition from the old, more reliant on fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal) into the renewables /wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass). Turning to innovation in new solutions is making this all possible.

For me, the interesting thing is that innovation is the engine powering the energy transformation and that the pace of discovery, exploration, and solution is beginning to happen at a rapid rate of demand-driven need. As someone engaged in innovation, the energy transformation story is getting really exciting.

You sense the future is changing, gaining unstoppable momentum. The difficulty for us all is this sort of transformation is at such a scale of complexity, rapid pace and variability; it is highly complex to relate too.

Here I am wanting to focus on one part of the energy transition taking place; solutions that are unlocking the energy systems flexibility.

Key changes happening to give us new flexible energy options:

Generation. The present large inflexible thermal generation is being replaced by renewable generation. The hard part is these renewables are weather dependent, so the innovation solutions need to become more flexible, deliver faster ramping up capacity to react to increasing volatility of net load occurring far more.

Sector coupling /demand. As the shift continues to electrification at the end-user continues the load on the distribution networks will increase. It is the ability to bring the sources of power together; it’s about the integration of the energy system in other sectors so that it can be inherently flexible. (The technical term for this is sector coupling.) This smooth’s out the demand patterns and aims to optimize the distribution grid.

Energy Storage. Battery technologies have been a massive set of innovation breakthroughs in recent years. The prices have fallen, and we have seen the consumer are installing batteries at a scale to maximize their solar PV system has become energy players. Distribution grid operators are turning to mid-scale batteries to avoid network upgrades, and finally, the power-to-x application that is supporting sector coupling (power-to-heat and power-to-hydrogen) are emerging offering the potential to store energy in different forms

Distribution grids. The ability to predict the load and provide the capacity to balance supply and demand has given rise to different distribution system operators, opportunities to change the regulatory frameworks and give rise to specialized grid stability management. The expansion of power grids and intelligent grid management are critical here because everything is becoming connected to manage energy differently than in the past. It is rapidly decentralizing control

Aggregation / demand response. With greater investment in technology, to some degree, this is driving different market design and business models within the system operations, all further innovation within the energy system. More active energy users, called prosumers as they both consume and produce energy are challenging the dynamics of the sector. They can unlock the potential for more demand-sided flexibility. A real innovator’s business model change opportunity space.

Renewables within the Energy Systems require significant innovation

Part of the energy drive in innovation activity is for integrating high shares of variable renewable energy (VRE) into power systems by the focus on increasing flexibility in the system while reducing the costs of system operation. The flexibility of a power system, the extent to which the system can adapt the pattern of electricity generation and consumption to keep supply and demand in constant balance is directly related to its ability to accommodate VRE generation at the lowest possible cost.

Innovation is at the heart of the energy transition.

It is driven to achieve a cost-effective global transformation that results in low-carbon, sustainable, reliable and inclusive energy systems with the emphasis on emerging flexible solutions that changes the energy equation.

Innovation is enabling technologies, offering new business models, market design and system integration options in focusing on flexible solutions to overcome solar and wind variability, provide increased system flexibility and allowing for reduced total system cost. Innovation is playing a significant role in facilitating the integration of the emerging new renewable energy system providing new opportunities to explore and evolve:

1).  For new business models, where new services, enhancing the system’s flexibility and providing the incentivizing of further integration models can play there part.

2). Then we have the consequence of any innovation change, in energy source and deliver, and that is in market design innovation. Regulations, policies, new incentives for value-adding services are building new business opportunities, that give a new breed of energy players, including a new set of infrastructure investors opportunities to support and gain from.

3). Lastly, the innovating models for operating in the electricity system can give a different way to share the value out of managing this VRE generation and it opens up the market to a whole new range of energy providers, including, you as a net contributor back to the energy grid with the right approach to usage, storage, and generation from your renewable technology stack of solutions.

Innovation solutions are both supply-sided and demand-sided

Innovation is working on both the supply-side in finding the new flexible solution but on the demand-side as well.

The Grid is offering a growing range of flexible solutions to reduce the dependencies on large centralized grids to closer to final demand, match closer generation and variable demands, provide increased flexibility in storage and new grid operations and provide solutions that interconnect the systems to be more flexible.

Storage through advancing battery-scale solutions and the power-to-x solutions is also offering a completely different range of options for demand-side management, optimization distribution closer to the markets and the ability to aggregate distributed energy resources to match and design the grid services for giving the need consumer that flexibility by taking out the variability of renewables.

Innovation has the power to unlock the Energy Transition

The energy shifts undergoing in the energy transitions today are allowing real innovation opportunities when you survey the innovation landscape. There is complexity in all the energy transitions going on, but it is the ones that can see the possibilities and ‘energize’ the innovation solutions hold the future in their hands. All we can predict; the pace of innovation and energy transition will scale up to meet the needs of a world rapidly wanting to decarbonize and the innovator is in a very healthy position to capitalize on this

Author: @paul4innovating

A transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems and the energy system

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