Few things are more essential to improving the lives of individuals than reliable access to energy. It enables economic growth, drives industrial output and helps to advance sectors as diverse and crucial as healthcare and finance.
But it also gives us access in our homes to clean water, electricity and heating, thereby contributing towards keeping us alive, secure and comfortable.
Yet the future of energy is in the balance. Global demand for energy is rising by 2 percent each year, and will rise by up to 55 percent by 2040. All the while, more than 1 billion people lack access to electricity.
What’s more, the traditional resources on which most modern industries, including transport and agriculture, rely are not finite. There is a dwindling amount of coal and oil on our planet. Some people would say that is a good thing as the use of such resources has a damaging effect on our health and ecosystems.
As a result, the global energy industry is being forced to undergo seismic change. The push towards more sustainable energy resources is both driven by, and opening the door to, new technologies aimed at easing the strain that our demand for energy places on the planet.
Hitachi is playing its part in reducing this strain through a process of Social Innovation that involves collaborating with stakeholders including governments, universities and consumers to find solutions that are both commercially practical and beneficial to society.
A new relationship
More than seven million people die each year from air pollution. This needs to change. Today, business model innovation is combining with new technology to seek out cleaner, more sustainable supplies and to transform the way energy is generated, distributed, managed and stored.
This has triggered a change in the relationship between consumers and suppliers. Digital intelligence and revolutionary data analytics are now driving efficiency across the board, from generation of energy to its consumption.
This is where Social Innovation becomes of vital importance. The collaboration of diverse sectors, from government to business to charity, is the only way in which we can challenge the complex problems brought about by increasing energy dependency in a world of diminishing traditional resources.
Smart technology needs to combine with new business models—not the supply-driven ones of old, but customer-centric and technology-enabled models that are better able to drive evolution in the global energy industry.
The next wave
Advances in the technology of energy will be vital to securing our growing needs well into the future. We can identify a number of major innovations that together comprise a new wave in our attempts to both adapt existing energy resources and create new ones for a changing world.
Virtual power plants
Multiple power sources, such as small combined heat and power (CHP) plants, wind, hydropower and solar, will be integrated into a centrally controlled network. Smart technology and advanced data analytics will then optimise efficiency and use.
Anything as a Service (XaaS)
This model heralds a fundamental shift from seeing the service as part of the product, to one where the product or system becomes part of the service. With energy, this means that suppliers don’t simply deliver energy: they deliver the ability for you to keep the light on whenever you want.
These new grids will be intelligent—employing use of smart meters and appliances—as well as emphasising renewable energy and advanced transmission distribution infrastructure.
Demand response (DR)
These models are enabling real-time analysis of customer demand trends, thereby allowing infrastructure for generation, transmission and distribution to react accordingly. Almost 50% of the energy required for residential consumption can be shifted to off-peak times by deploying DR solutions.
Data analytics and digital transformation will all be facilitated by advances in cloud-based technology.
These smaller energy systems take care of demand management, storage and generation, and can operate either independently from, or in parallel with, main power grids.
Innovation in energy
The role of technology and social innovation in powering a new future for energy should not be underestimated. The rapidly growing use of smartphones and connected devices, forecast to reach 80 billion by 2025, means that Big Data can be exploited more and more.
This growth in connectivity is expected to positively impact on all aspects of our energy networks, from production to consumption. The next wave of technology development will move towards more automation in energy networks, and enable efficiency and sustainability of electricity supplies to become a reality for communities across the world.
Ten factors will define the future of energy, and governments and business that look to these as opportunities will ensure they make a positive impact on our world.
- Big data
- Internet of things
- Fuels for the future
- Carbon reduction
- Market decentralisation
- New business models
- Energy efficiency
- Water stress alleviation
- Recycling and the circular economy
- Smart cities
We explore these factors in our article “Digitising energy”.
The energy sector therefore provides ample opportunity for innovation, and the returns from investing in new data analytics and digital transformation will go far beyond just the financial reward. It will herald a greener, more sustainable world, where more communities than ever are hooked up to the grid getting the energy the need for fulfilled and safe lives.
The ideas in this article are taken from Hitachi’s white paper on Social Innovation in energy.
Our world faces a number of challenges, from climate change and pollution to population growth and urbanisation. Hitachi believes that it must help to find innovative and commercially viable solutions for these challenges. Visit Social-Innovation.Hitachi to learn how Social Innovation is helping Hitachi improve lives across the world.
Image under licence from iStockPhoto.com, credit aydinmutlu