Innovations helping the UK achieve net-zero ambitions

The energy industry is well on its way towards a more sustainable future. Over the past decade, emissions from fossil fuels have dropped by nearly 30 percent as the UK pushes ahead to meet its net-zero ambitions by 2050.

While this is all good news, the UK still relies heavily on gas (and sometimes diesel) for power generation, especially at peak times. However, this could be set to change drastically in the coming years. Boris Johnson’s 10-point climate plan has laid out a clear signal of intent that the UK will increase investment and implementation of sustainable energy solutions, ultimately, moving the UK closer to net-zero ahead of the 2050 target.

Power generation is already a long way down the road to decarbonization, but the electrification of transport and the next stages in decarbonizing power consumption will need more complex digital infrastructure upgrades. A huge amount of system and process change is going to be required, putting technology right at the heart of the nation’s green industrial recovery.

Within these digital infrastructure upgrades, there are three key innovations that will see consumers given greater control over their energy usage in a bid to further decarbonize. These are peer-to-peer energy trading markets, new flexibility services and different ‘as a Service’ type offers.

In the UK, disaggregation of the energy markets makes delivery of these changes complex. The industry will therefore be reliant on the delivery leadership of government and regulators to oversee an industry overhaul on this scale. The government’s climate plan and the investment it attracts will therefore be integral to the UK’s efforts to decarbonize ahead of 2050.

Peer-to-peer energy trading markets

Peer-to-peer energy trading markets will enable consumers to trade energy with neighbors and others in the local area throughout the day.

Where homes were traditionally merely users of electricity, thanks to advancements in home electricity storage and generation (through solar panels, electric heating systems and batteries), more homes will soon have the capacity to generate and store their own electricity on a much larger scale. Whether this is sold back to the grid, local energy pool or used for domestic purposes, it reduces the strain on the national supply and increases our use of renewable energy.

For energy providers, introducing peer-to-peer energy trading will require a huge upgrade to their digital infrastructure. Assuring the success of this upgrade process is going to be critical to getting consumers onboard with the new system from day one.

The businesses that move first will give themselves the best opportunity to appeal to new audiences. But in a market where guaranteed business continuity is expected and users can switch at the click of a button, service providers know that mistakes can be very costly.

Flexibility services will see consumers with solar panels and other “energy resources” like batteries, groups of electric vehicles, and backup generators at businesses all sell services to the grid to help it balance the system at lower voltage levels.

Energy companies are now unveiling a number of innovations that are already helping us make things cleaner and greener across homes today. Devices like solar panels, electric heating systems, batteries and smart meters have revolutionized the home energy space in recent years.

What is less well known is that this sort of flexibility and change requires enabling technology investments across the whole of the energy industry. This includes central market programs like smart metering, faster switching and half-hourly settlement.

When it comes to the wholesale change indicated by the government’s new plan, there are similar technical and logistical challenges to consider. Assurance and testing will need to be built in and become central to the whole process, for any overhaul to be a success. This transition will be dependent on the individual functionality of each component operating as it should, ensuring that the data is accurate, and the system is processing demand and supply quantities correctly.

‘As a Service’ offerings

Different “as a Service” type offers for consumers which sell a package based on outcomes, not units of energy, will soon hit the market.

In real terms for consumers, this would mean, for example, that your gas supplier could charge you a monthly rate to keep your house at a certain temperature, or your electricity supplier could sell you “driving as a Service” with an electric vehicle and a guarantee of a certain level of charge at all times. Ultimately, consumers would therefore only be paying for what they need, keeping their costs down and reducing the demand on the grid, helping to further decarbonize and achieve net-zero.

What’s more, if people are going to be charging vehicles from their home energy supply, or even charging their homes from stored energy in their car’s batteries, metering, controlling and accounting for energy will become even more vital. The whole economics of home electricity supply could be turned on its head. As with peer-to-peer trading and new flexibility services, assurance and testing will be critical.

Energy providers have little room for failure when their customers depend on them to keep the lights on and their homes warm. Similarly, with new innovations like this, it will take consumers some time to adapt to the new way of buying the product and using a service. In an increasingly saturated market, there is little room for provider errors. Businesses must understand how and when their customers want to buy energy and what offerings will best work for them, from the outset. Product testing and the confidence it provides, to both the provider and its customers, is paramount to bringing these innovations to market rapidly and, on a national scale.

These innovations will all require complex changes to existing enterprise and operational systems and the integration of completely new operational and financial systems, as well as field IoT devices to make them work.

There will be an even greater emphasis on data as smart devices enable businesses to collect, analyze and store vast amounts of customer data – allowing for an improved customer experience. However, ensuring a seamless setup of these technologies across the value chain is complex, and comes with risk which needs to be managed.

Guaranteeing business continuity and quality of service is essential for all businesses, but nowhere more so than the utility industry, where any disruption can negatively impact the consumer and threatens to tarnish future relationships if trust in the service diminishes. So, when embarking on these changes, it will be important to test all systems end-to-end to ensure they’re functioning correctly, both independently and as part the wider network of systems.

Not only that, but because the energy market is so disaggregated, many of these change programs will need to be centrally managed. Independent assurance is going to be critical in making a success of what will be the largest and most complex energy infrastructure upgrade we have seen for decades – since the gas network was converted in the 1960s and boilers were replaced and appliances upgraded nationwide

Rachel Eyers, Global Head of Energy & Utilities, Expleo Group

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