Innovation in the Energy Sector: Technology & Emerging Trends

Innovation in the Energy Sector: Technology & Emerging Trends

Technological developments in the energy sector have been and will continue to redefine the way we create and consume energy. In a recent conversation with the Editor of Silicon India, Syed Sajjadh Ali, Managing Director - India, Electrical Sector, Eaton shared their insights on the impact driven by technology & emerging trends that would improve the efficiency of the energy sector.

1. How do emerging trends improve the efficiency of the energy sector?

There are a number of technology trends in the industry in general, particularly in the power industry. We work across the electrical value chain, delivering by-products and services to ensure secure and safe distribution and delivery of quality electricity to the point of use in an optimised fashion.  The addition of renewable energy and local storage capacity and its impact on energy delivery are some of the key concerns facing the industry. The energy industry is transitioning to a different kind of world with the addition of electric vehicles as well.

The second trend is digitalisation, that is, a combination of internet of things and the capability to leverage information and assets. To optimise energy and achieve efficiency, it is important to leverage information, digitalisation. This is where I think the industry is going next to solve some real challenging problems focused on sustainability. A key challenge associated with digitalisation is cybersecurity, which requires making products and services safe and secure.

The third trend we are seeing is the change in the business model itself. Consumers are producing more power locally in communities, and they have essentially become prosumers. They produce and consume and that is a whole new dynamic for the industry to cope with around the world. This will change how we perceive and optimise power. So, the whole concept of prosumers is very relevant and real, particularly in India, which will have 40 per cent renewables over time.

2. What is the role of technology in shaping the future of the energy industry?

Technological developments in the energy sector have been and will continue to redefine the way we create and consume energy. Off-late the emergence of Lithium-ion batteries and affordable sensors and software have shaped many industries like E-mobility and Data centers.We are in the midst of a significant transformation - the digital transformation of manufacturing. The 4th industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, is the automation of traditional manufacturing practices using digital technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, additive manufacturing, factory simulation and augmented and virtual reality. Manufacturing models are becoming autonomous and using algorithms and machine learning to become “smart.” 

By leveraging Industry 4.0 technology, we are significantly improving our manufacturing operations and adding value for our customers— creating and developing systems and processes that are connected, flexible and optimized. Innovative, scalable, and data-driven manufacturing models are resulting in higher product quality, decreased time-to-market, reduced environmental footprint and a safer and more productive workforce. 

3. What is the impact of technology in power sector?

The pandemic has accelerated digitalisation timelines for many businesses. At the same time, growing awareness of the environmental impact has placed energy transition at the forefront of many governments and businesses’ agendas. It is imperative they leverage relevant technologies that can help them navigate the challenges and harness growth opportunities. While the state of digital maturity, renewable energy and grid stability varies across Asia, organisations can and should start assessing their current operations to identify gaps and opportunities to deploy smart digital solutions. Microgrids could be the solution to overcoming common power challenges for many Southeast Asian countries where a large number of communities either don’t have access to the grid or grid availability is poor. Thereare self-sufficient and reliable power solutions which can integrate multiple distributed power generation sources such as wind and solar on a common grid structure. There are also other back-up strategies such as lithium-ion batteries and Uninterruptible Power Supply solutions. These often utilise IoT and cloud tools to provide intelligent 24/7 monitoring. Such critical power solutions can provision constant power even under the most adverse environmental conditions when paired with predictive analytics tools. As more adopt connected digital solutions, they should ensure their infrastructure is regularly assessed by experts, patched and updated to mitigate cyber security risksthat come with digitalisation. A thorough assessment of existing infrastructure before deploying new systems or tools is necessary to better identify potential cyber security loopholes. An often-overlooked area is the operational technology (OT) environment. This includes devices and systems which form part of the physical infrastructure such as building and power management. Organisations need to account for both IT and OT environments when performing cyber security audits to understand the overall health of their security capabilities. Organisations should work with technology partners when it comes to deploying new solutions. Connected devices and IoT should also always be manufactured with a ‘secure by design’ approach to aid infrastructure owners in managing cyber security risks.

4. How is the energy sector affected by climate changes? / What are the challenges facing the energy sector due to climate changes?

We live in an energized world that depends on safe, reliable, always-on electricity. This ever-increasing demand for energy has a growing impact on climate change. As communities around the world look to maintain and modernize their aging utility infrastructure, and homeowners look to better manage and control energy costs, it is critical to find ways that we can help the grid to be more responsive, intelligent, and efficient—while making the most of renewable resources.Extreme climate events lead to grid in-stability and loss of grid infrastructure. Climate change has increased the frequency of extreme climate events across the globe.

The world is calling for nations and businesses to work together to address global climate change. Human-induced climate change has wrought observable impacts to people, infrastructure, and ecosystems, including increases in global temperatures, more frequent heatwaves, extreme precipitation in some regions and droughts in others. We all should be committed to doing our part in the global response to the threat of climate change and to advance sustainable development.

5. What is the innovation of technology in the energy sector? 

Energy transition is an increasingly used industry term that covers three related macro trends, the one we talked least about is the increasing electrification of buildings and transport that means moving from other sources of primary energy to electricity. For example, cars that move from using petroleum to being plugged in and using electricity, and the same thing is happening in building systems as well. Functions like heating and cooking are moving from natural gas to electricity.

The second part of the energy transition definition is that within electricity, we see a major shift in the fuel source that create that electricity from coal and natural gas to renewables such as solar and wind.

And then finally, the structure of electricity generation is changing with a dramatic rise in distributed energy resources.

6.  What is the vital role of emerging trends in the energy sector?  How does these trends help in energy sector development?

Few trends that will impact Indian power sector are:

Technology: While the sector has been undergoing an overhaul over the last few years, the coronavirus pandemic underscored the need of accelerated technological upgradation. Going forward, the focus on implementation of smart technologies like an evolved grid system, smart metering, digital asset management will help transform the seemingly traditional, manpower-heavy sector into a smarter, more efficient power system with each element in the value chain re-imagining their processes and streamlining infrastructure.

Green Energy: Renewable energy is expected to form 70% of fresh capacity expansion expected over the next 5 years. This would help achieve India’s commitment to increase renewable share in total generation to 40% by fiscal 2030 from current 25% as part of the Paris climate deal.

Transmission: Going forward, significant development in the transmission sector would be triggered by the aggressive renewable expansion plans. Large scale grid connected solar and wind plants are usually located in the far-flung areas, where there is limited existing transmission infrastructure. Renewable power generating companies have urged for adequate grid availability in the past. This will urgently need an expansion of grid connectivity in the next two years to be able to accomplish the renewable energy target.