FORESIGHT Climate & Energy 12

A great white whale

The 21st Century has brought technological advancements that were once unimaginable. Digitisation of work flows, processes and our everyday lives are more than ever linked to one another. This interconnectedness provides huge opportunities for the energy sector to further strengthen and accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. In this special issue of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy, our twelfth, we join the dots between what digital technology can do for the energy sector and what the energy sector is doing with digital technology.

A 2020 report by McKinsey, a US-based management consulting firm, highlighted the problem facing the energy sector as it attempts to digitise: “For energy companies, achieving value from digital technologies has become the great white whale: anxiously hunted, dimly perceived, enormous, and elusive. They assumed that, as engineering-savvy organisations with a history of ingenuity, they could easily find the value from digital. Reality has proved more difficult.”

Finding and applying the right technologies and applying them effectively has been a challenge so far. But with the rapid pace of development in computing and technology, new applications are being developed constantly. While it has taken longer than some may have expected, in the coming pages, FORESIGHT highlights some of the cutting-edge projects that have worked out how to apply digital tools to speeding the energy transition.

Among the most advanced of those we uncover is the experimental Cornwall Local Energy Market in the UK. The project takes digital innovation to its limit in renewable energy system management by demonstrating how to maintain grid frequency and deal with imbalances using a trading platform for simultaneous action at both transmission and distribution level. It is an important real life example of how digital products are helping to navigate the ever more complicated energy ecosystem.

Distributed ledger technology, meantime, particularly blockchain is a digital technology whose benefits have remained “elusive” to energy companies, despite emerging on the scene to significant fanfare a couple of years ago. Development of the technology is ongoing with new iterations that may make it better suited to the energy sector than seen to date.

What the analysis and case studies in this issue indicate is that the energy transition is still a human problem and will be solved by humans. The digital tools that are being applied increasingly to the energy system should be used to support decision making by actual operators. Alone they cannot and should not be depended on to reliably manage the grid or guide us to a decarbonised economy. That will take the right decisions made at the right time by people with the right knowledge and experience: experts steeped in scientific fact. 


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