The Future of Europe’s Energy Sector


Brigitte Bach, head of the energy department of the Austrian Institute of Technology, Austria’s largest research and technology organisation, spoke with Areti Ntaradimou,
content director for European Utility Week, about the future of the European energy sector.

Europe is obviously heading towards a more decentralised future. What do you think about this move?

Decentralised energy systems provide a promising way to achieve our climate goals,offering multiple opportunities both forthe private and public sectors. As prices for renewables, such as photovoltaics, continue to fall, the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is becoming increasingly economically viable. Energy suppliers are well aware ofthis impending disruption to their industry,which will induce structural change and lead to the emergence of new market dynamics.

New financing instruments like crowdfunding provide community energy projects with a vital additional source of funding in this context.

The AIT is working on various projects focussed on the sustainable, smart and resilient habitats of tomorrow. AIT focuses on combining innovative processes with the latest digital planning tools, big data and AI.

Could you please elaborate on that and also explain how AI is helping you ‘create’ the habitats of the future?

Cities are considered as key players fora successful energy transition. However,cities are also large and complex systems characterised by different infrastructure layers, planning processes, social norms,political frameworks, etc. These often make it difficult to grasp the complex interactions between the individual

nodes of the urban network. Thus, a holistic approach based on innovative technologies is required to understand such intricate systems. Digital planning tools help to visualise future scenarios and support the decision-making processes.

Artificial Intelligence provides officials with information about how people use cities and is essential in improving infrastructure, optimising the use of available resources and enhancing public safety.

Security is one of the top themes in the European Commission’s agenda for 2018.

How big a problem do you think security might be in the future and how are we going to overcome it?

Security is a crucial aspect in the digital transformation of the energy sector. New technological developments are required to solve the upcoming challenges in this field.

For example, security and privacy present major issues when it comes to smart meters or blockchain technologies. These technologies will eventually benefit both utilities and consumers by providing more flexibility in energy consumption and offering decentralised transaction models. Another challenge is to enhance the reliability and interoperability of smart home devices and their resilience to network and power failures as well as the development of cybersecurity solutions for vulnerable industrial automation and control systems. Smart city apps and citizen participation, which strongly rely on the sharing of personal data, will need to strike a balance between personal privacy and city efficiency. To date, uncertainty in the regulatory landscape generally remains a significant restraint in adopting these smart solutions.

How would you describe the role of the utility in the future? Will utilities still be major‘players’ in the energy sector? Are they going to transform and if yes, how?

Utilities could potentially play a major role,but they have to change their business perspective and positioning within the value chain. They must strive to become multiple energy service providers, offering packages tailored to their customers’ needs using the latest ICT. The future portfolio of utilities as full lifestyle providers will include services for green, resilient and healthy neighbourhoods,sustainable mobility based on optimal modal split, and state-of-the-art telecom services. Utilities will thus increasingly act as ‘technology integrators’ across various domains, including energy, mobility, water or communication. This also means that new players will enter the energy sector, leading to increased competition.

Larger volumes of intermittent renewables in the European electricity system will require higher degrees of flexibility in order to stabilise the grid. What is the best way to achieve this and how is it going to affect the quality of energy?

Despite intermittent energy generation,security and quality of supply must be maintained regardless. This can be achieved by intelligent demand-side management,which also includes industrial players such as energy-intensive industries, and by exploring as yet untapped potentials. Storage technologies and systems, both electric and thermal, will also play an increasingly vital role in this context. In addition, new and flexible price regimes will have to be implemented in order to incentivise smart energy usage based on stronger user involvement.

Do you agree that digitalisation is a powerful enabler for the integration of more renewable sinto the electricity system and will help ensure that distributed renewables like rooftop solar PV are deployed in a ‘smart’ way?

I think that digitalisation is absolutely key to transforming our energy systems. The digitalised energy systems of the future will be able to identify who needs energy and deliver it when and where it is needed,and at the lowest cost. Data analytics and connectivity provide the basis for new business models enabling a range of new digital applications such as smart appliances,shared mobility, and 3D printing. Blockchain technology will open up new ways for transactions across a peer-to-peer network.

All these technologies and the smart use of data can help consumers actively participate in the energy market and use energy more efficiently. They will enable decision-makers,business executives and other stakeholders to plan, implement and monitor their projects more thoroughly. SEI

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 4-2018.