How to advance Europe’s twin green and digital transformation

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“When we speak about the twin digital transformation, we are talking about making the energy system more sustainable. We need digitalisation to optimise the participation of actors across the entire value chain,” said Paula Pinho, Director of European Commission DG.

Pinho was speaking in a keynote presentation about how Europe’s energy sector can benefit from the full potential of digital technologies to enhance the Green Deal objectives.

The session took place at EU Sustainable Energy Week, an event organised by the European Commission and energy stakeholders aimed at reshaping the energy system.

Right to left: Pearse O’Donohue, Director for the Future Networks Directorate, Hans van Steen, Advisor, Paula Pinho, Director, European Commission

Paula Pinho’s keynote delved into the rise of decentralized energy, which is delivering more renewables into the system and allowing end consumers to participate in the energy system.

“[This] is reflected in current legislation such as RED and the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, as well as upcoming proposals such as the European Performance of Building Directive, which looks at smart data exchange to better understand building stock in the EU.

“Data sharing will optimize use of the grid, allowing grid operators to know what is happening on the grid through AI, and ensuring a balanced grid.

“Interoperability of data is important, it will ensure we can make best use of data across sectors”.

Pinho explained that with data sharing comes empowering consumers. “They will be key to contributing the data, but privacy and safety must be ensured, through a solid regulatory approach, ensuring consumers have faith and trust.”

Pinho concluded: “We must ensure a citizen-centered digital transition. More trust means more benefit”.

Spotlight on consumer rights

Monique Goyens

Monique Goyens, Director General, BEUC – The Europan Consumer Organisation, further emphasised the role of the consumer, speaking about how best to involve consumers in the energy transformation.

“At the end of the day, it’s the consumers who are going to make it happen.

“They need to digitalize the way they consume or produce energy. It’s about smart meters, it’s about smart use of demand response, it’s about using your car as a battery, V2G, V2H.

“There are a lot of things in which consumers need to become involved – you need to provide consumer-friendly opportunities and you need to address the risks – privacy and data protection”.

Goyens emphasised respect for consumer rights. In the energy sector, there is a well-established system of consumer rights, while in the digital sector, she explains this is less the case with legislation being less enforced. “We call the digital sector the wild west in that regard,” said Goyens.

In terms of data access, as long as consumer consent is given, data can be used to develop new services within the energy sector, boost competitiveness and prevent barriers to innovation, explained Goyens.

However, she added that ‘open energy’ must not lead to the threat of reciprocity, which would remove any meaningful consent from the consumer. “A strong regulatory framework is needed so that open energy still keeps people safe. There must be cooperation with other sectors, as regulatory frameworks and responses can’t be fragmented depending on the sector,” concluded Goyens.

Digitalisation needs a coherant approach

Pearse O’Donohue, Director for the Future Networks Directorate of DG CNECT – European Commission, explained that in order to reach the goal of lowering emissions by 55% by 2030, all sectors of the economy need to undergo a fundamental shift.

“We have to rethink everything we do and be coherent across all the policy efforts that we have in the European Union. We also have to grasp the full potential of the digital transformation, which is why we are working closely with all actors across the European Commission”.

O’Donohue emphasises the relationship between the green and digital transition. It’s not just about improving competitiveness and productivity, it’s also about tackling climate change and ensuring energy efficiency.

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“These twin transitions must go hand in hand,” added O’Donohue.

He emphasised two key elements of Europe’s transformation, which are data management and the security of networks. By getting these right, data can be brought together to identify new ways of benefitting the economy and society, such as in health, caring for the elderly and mobility.

In terms of the energy sector, the EU is supporting the deployment of data spaces and using research funding under Horizon Europe to prepare for those data spaces in energy.

Said O’Donohue: “Data spaces are at the core of Europe’s data strategy. [These spaces will] ensure we have a secure and reusable pool of data, which can be accessed in the appropriate circumstances by anybody who can draw value and help society. This must be balanced by the rules of each sector and personal data must be protected at all costs”.

O’Donohue and the entire panel agreed that work on the Internet of Things is essential. Using sensors and devices on the edge of the network and using edge computing to prevent energy wastage is vital, ensuring energy is reused before drawing down from central grids.

“The industries, therefore, need to get to know each other better. The use of IoT in the energy sector and bringing sectors together to work on these new solutions.”

Digitalisation simplifying the energy transition

Antonello Monti

Antonello Monti, Professor, RWTH Aachen University/Fraunhofer FIT, spoke about an important benefit of digitalisation, namely simplifying the very complex process of energy transition.

“One magic part of digitalisation is that it can bring a lot of simplification. It brings value by hiding the complexity of the energy transition.

“Like in finance, it works so well, we didn’t even have to think about the fact that we had to digitalize. That should be our target for energy.”

Monti emphasised one of the key challenges of a twin green and digital transition. “One challenge is that we say we need to involve consumers in the digitalization process, but many don’t know what we are talking about. It’s difficult to understand flexibility, they don’t understand the concept”.

Monti recommended communicating to consumers in an easy way, educating people so they can understand what digitalization is about. He stressed that simple must not mean a lack of transparency – simple and transparent is the best way to ensure buy-in and support and will keep consumers interested.

Visit the European Energy Sustainability Week website for more detail about the programme.