2021: The year ahead

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a year unlike any other. How will 2021 be different? Claire Volkwyn collected insights from industry experts about 2021 predictions for smart meter rollouts, EV-development, flexibility and the decarbonisation drive.

Wolfgang Löw, CISO, EVN and board member, ENCS:

“I think the pace of change is really going to accelerate. You have the ongoing migration to the Cloud but also broader digitalisation challenges. You see more products and services popping up for controlling energy consumption at the grid edge, for controlling grid components too – all of these trends bring vulnerabilities and as a sector, we need to keep up with them and work together to define security requirements, architectures and so on. ENCS will be a crucial part of this, along with the Network Code Cybersecurity. We can also expect movement on regulations at various levels. The NIS Directive will be reviewed, and national NIS laws implemented.

Chris Kimmet, director of power grids, Reactive Technologies:

2020 has shown strides in decarbonisation targets globally with a path now inexorably set to 100% renewables. As this trend continues in 2021, grid systems will be faced with a need to invest in fundamentally new measurement and balancing tools. Our recent contract with National Grid ESO to build a ultracapacitor which will measure grid data in real-time is just one example of how grid operators can utilise technology solutions to help achieve their clean energy targets.

Nick Merricks, head of UK electricity product management at Landis+Gyr:

Many countries across the world are committing to reduce or ban the sales of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030 and with that, calls for more regulatory support and infrastructure to facilitate the wider adoption of electric vehicles will only get louder. EV charging enabled by smart meters will be crucial in allowing customers to access the cheapest tariffs, as well as balancing the load on the grid as more renewables come online. With innovative trials such as the SmartSTEP project already underway, we will see further cross-sector collaborations in 2021 to bring EVs to the masses through increased accessibility and affordability.

Anja Langer Jacquin, chief commercial officer, Depsys:

Even though we are still operating in very uncertain times due to COVID-19, my sense is that people and companies have now found a balance of how to operate in that uncertainty. I feel that we are starting to see an acceleration from the utilities wanting to modernise, and that has been triggered by COVID. I also believe, very strongly, the utilities should strive to become attractive employers. There’s a whole generation of workforce that is retiring from the utilities, and there’s a desire to attract young different talent. Utilities need more data science expertise, for instance, and the challenge is for utilities to really reinvent their position and the role that they can play in this crucial, climate-oriented focus as well.

I’m very optimistic for 2021 – COVID or no COVID.

Dr Maria Leitner (AIT) with Wolfgang Löw, MSc. Image: EVN/Antal.

Senthil Kumar, VP of software engineering, FogHorn:

Building managers and operators will use real-time streaming analytics to reach 2050 zero-energy goals. In addition, edge AI tools eliminate the need to rip and- replace outdated legacy building management systems.

Glen Pendley, deputy CTO, Tenable:

In 2021, 5G will bring boundless opportunity, both in introducing new ways to connect and elevating the standard for securing disparate infrastructure. Once 5G is widely available, the floodgates will open, and both the white hats and black hats of the world will experience a swift learning curve in navigating the mass distribution and interconnectivity of 5G. The profound speed and reach will connect businesses more than ever before, which could translate into the dangerous ripple effects of a successful attack.

5G will revolutionise the security landscape. More devices will be brought online than ever before, and we will see more convergence among IT and OT as the environments collide. To avoid creating an attacker’s advantage, the market will learn lessons from cloud adoption and embrace a shared risk responsibility. As data continuously flows through the potentially vulnerable 5G infrastructure, it will be essential to build holistic security to close the exposure gap. In order to combat new and emerging threats, this will require both users and service providers to lock arms to prioritise security measures and build an ecosystem of trusted vendors.

Simon Egan, managing director UK, Ireland and the Netherlands at Landis+Gyr:

Flexibility will reign supreme. Even as we emerge from the pandemic, there is no doubt that flexible working patterns will continue as “the new normal”. This major shift in energy consumption habits and blurring of the lines between peak and off-peak has demonstrated the need for flexible and intelligent power distribution. This is only made possible through a truly smart grid that can manage demand-side fluctuations whilst accommodating increasing renewable generation.

Jo Allen, customer engagement ambassador, Pegasystems:

AI will identify vulnerable customers, helping utilities address those who are in need of assistance and showing the consumers the empathy they deserve.

With the increase in home working and customers struggling to pay their winter bills, we will likely see the introduction of new pricing models, rather than tariff changes to accommodate. We have arrived at a point where customers want to use more green energy than ever before. While this is undoubtedly a positive, energy suppliers are struggling to deliver enough energy across the board to cope with ever increasing demand. In a bid to meet these preferences, providers will have to do more to encourage customers to change their habits pertaining to energy use.

Until now, digital transformation has been a buzzword throughout the sector, and technologies such as AI have been employed without really considering whether they actually are the most appropriate solution. 2021 will see utility companies stepping up in terms of how they employ technology.

Joel Jaton, CTO and co-founder, Depsys:

I think this year and moving into the future the only solution to face climate change is to use electricity – in terms of mobility, heating, cooling, etc. I heard something the other day that expresses this very well: The future is uncertain, but it’s electric. I really like this sentence, because this is a good summary of the future. We will be more and more dependent on electricity for everything in our daily lives.

Marzia Zafar, head of policy and strategy, Kaluza:

2020 saw the UK’s smart meter rollout plagued with setbacks yet again, jeopardising the UK’s net zero target in the process, while risking a deepening of the years, even decades, of consumer disillusionment and disengagement with the energy market.

Smart meters act as a gateway, displaying complete visibility of energy usage in a way that makes sense for all users. As a first step, we must demonstrate to consumers the ease of optimising technology readily available to them – smart connected devices in their homes that take in and store energy when it is cheapest for them and greenest for the grid.

2021 is the time for us – the energy industry, government and consumers – to come together. Every one of us needs to interact with our energy accounts as we do with our bank accounts, finding easy ways to save on both money and carbon emissions for a brighter future, propelling us towards the 2050 net zero goal.