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2050 insights we uncovered at Downstream 2019.

Renewable energy. It’s not a new conversation at all. While it’s one we all need to keep having, we also need to start investing heavily into it as well. Because if we have any hope of reaching the 2050 net zero emission goal, it’s clear we can’t do it with the current industry infrastructure.
Michael Howard

After taking some time to digest what was presented and discussed at Downstream 2019, we’ve outlined our biggest takeaways from the event. As always, we’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on these too.

#123: An industry unaligned.

Generators generate. Distributors distribute. Retailers retail. It sounds simple and there seems to be clear boundaries where one responsibility ends and another starts. But we all know this isn’t the case. The discussion reverberating around the room and during the network sessions centered around access to customer data. Yes, this would help with better forecasting of usage and net stability, etc., but there were other benefits like helping identify faults faster too.

We were reminded about the lack of trust in Australia’s banking sector, which came about because the sector wasn't transparent nor was it giving value back to customers. Energy needs to do the same. Is there a fair exchange of value? Is there a way we can respect customer privacy but still utilise their data to provide a better overall experience? Can the whole supply chain find common ground to provide such transparency?

While the answer may not be simple, it’s clear there needs to be more collaboration. The EA made a clear statement that if the industry doesn’t align, they will step in. As it stands, the Commerce Commission and Electricity Authority have just initiated a project to assess how new technologies and business models might benefit consumers. Is this a sign of where things are heading?

#473: Sustainable matters.

New Zealand has a relatively impressive standing when it comes to renewable energy, sitting at around 85% thanks mainly to hydro. But if we’re to make the 2050 Paris Agreement levels, we still have that extra 15% gap to make up.

James Shaw estimated that, when you take into consideration population growth expected by 2050 and the changes in technology habits, we’ll need to double our current generation - without fossil fuels. Most people in the room agreed that solar and wind simply won’t be enough. And because our country has a proud anti-nuclear stance, it’s clear nuclear is off the table too. So we need innovation and new energy sources that aren’t available today.

#615: Cost of clean tech is plummeting.

BloombergNEF sure had some interesting figures to consider. Perhaps the most exciting was the shrinking cost of clean tech. Why? This leads to scalability and mass-market adoption. But this brings up a few red flags that we need to consider.

Are we all running in the right direction when it comes to clean tech? What’s the long-term plan that will ensure we have a sustainable, integrated model come 2050? And are we creating clean tech that is overall more sustainable than its ‘dirty’ tech equivalents (from manufacturing through to consumption and on to recyclability? Considering these questions now will help us steer our solutions into such a space that will help us reach our 2050 goals.

Thankfully, a majority of early adopters aren’t so focused on the savings that come from clean tech, but rather the principles of being sustainable. This provides the market with a cushion to keep learning and innovating, while the cost of such clean tech keeps reducing.

And while this happens, Transition Engineering are committed discovering alternative energy scenarios that can help us here. They’ve have come to the conclusion that we’re currently using too much energy, and if we’re to make a low-carbon energy system work then we must reduce demand.

#901: EVs taking over the roads. Eventually.

Electric vehicles enjoyed a reasonable amount of time in the spotlight too, mainly around the concern of EV recharging habits. While the current 12,000 EVs recharging ‘at once’ has a relatively negligible impact on the grid, when you consider how the Government expects the number of EVs on the roads to rise from 2.9% to 33% by 2040, we’re going to have an issue on our hands.

So while the EVs are still relatively expensive and while they’re in the early adopter phase, now is the perfect opportunity for the industry to implement changes in consumer (charging) behaviour. Does this mean setting up solar in public carparks so EVs can recharge their batteries during the day, then drive and feed power back to homes for the evening? That’s one option.

If we’re looking for inspiration, Norway is one of leaders in this field. This year, half of all new vehicles registered will be EVs. The Norwegian Government has incentivised purchasing EVs through a number of ways, including the removal of VAT. What this ultimately means is that it’s now cheaper to buy a new electric car than it is a new fossil-fueled car. So if any country will be pushing the boundaries of innovation in this space, Norway is the one to watch.

#1298 The battle for grid-edge and net-edge tech.

As grid-edge and net-edge tech becomes more and more popular, the debate around the ownership and oversight of such tech will heat up. Should generators be the ones managing grid-edge tech or should that responsibility lie with distributors? Likewise, should distributors be responsible for net-edge tech or retailers?

At first thought this might sound obvious. While this doesn’t necessarily mean one part of the sector owning the relationship with the end-users, it could lend itself to being a shared-ownership model where generators, distributors, and retailers each own part of the process or relationship.

#1756 UX-led thinking: EaaS

Paul Jordan gave us some really interesting food for thought with the Energy as a Service model. Yes the UK energy market operates somewhat differently than here, but it’s the customer-first thinking that is really impressive. Turning kilowatt hours into heat hours may sound really simple, but it’s no wonder someone hasn’t done it sooner. Knowing that you’ve got 20 hours of warmth left for the month will no doubt help you change your consumption habits and be much more mindful of the energy you’re using.

These heat hours are just the start. There are other avenues that could be explored with this line of thinking, such as distance travelled for electric vehicles. The key to uncovering such innovations is throwing away the rulebook with how things have happened in the past and being open to new ways of doing things. The market is waiting for disruption. And we’d be keen to help with any discovery projects or creating and derisking prototypes too.

#2003 Will data save us?

The final point we’ll touch on is that people aren’t confident that data will be the ‘saviour’ that we’ve all been longing for. “Don’t get your hopes up regarding the quality of such data”, was one particular response. And that person was right.

Data in and of itself isn’t all that useful. But with the appropriate systems in place, plus cleansing, and collection over time, energy data can add tremendous value to the sector. This is where energy data management systems like Robotron can make life really easy, but what’s possibly the most interesting, is that it’s fairly cost-effective when compared to other solutions in the market.

Thinking of the not-too-distant future

If you’re exploring the idea of collecting and extracting energy data but don’t know where to start, we can help provide clarity around the project and provide you with the tools to get others in your business across the line as well.



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