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Energy sector challenges

The race to green!

Photograph: Unsplash

Text: Mariano Anthony Davies

The energy sector is the basis of any society. Without access to energy, we would be unable to supply the world with electricity, gas, water and food, which are integral to economic growth and survival globally.

Non-renewable energy has powered the world for centuries. From petroleum products, oil, natural gas and nuclear, approximately 80% of the world's energy each year comes from non-renewable sources. Although these sources are energy-rich and cheap to process, they are nevertheless finite resources.

As non-renewable energy supplies deplete, the negative environmental impact caused by the extraction, production and combustion of these sources has resulted in a societal backlash and governmental regulations to curb usage to avert the worst effects of climate change. Yet, as energy demand grows, our dependence on non-renewable energy continues.

Despite the calls to replace non-renewable energy with renewable green energy, we will only see a peak in oil within the next five years and natural gas will remain the most-resilient non-renewable energy source.

Renewable energy stems from natural sources such as the wind, sun and sea as well as biofuels such as ethanol. This type of energy is easily replenishable, reducing dependence upon non-renewable energy and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, implementation remains a challenge. High initial costs, storage concerns and its intermittent nature are some of the issues the sub-sector must overcome.

The scope of digitalisation is entering the energy sector to improve the safety, production and sustainability of energy systems globally. For the EU, digitalisation is at the centre of its future. To achieve its digital ambitions by 2030, the European Commission emphasises the importance of digital technologies to deliver flexible energy generation and consumption to increase renewable energy usage.

The European Commission proposed the Digitalisation of Energy Action Plan in 2022. The Action Plan seeks to build a competitive digital energy service and infrastructure market. One that is cyber-secure, efficient and sustainable, thus promoting cooperation between the energy and digital sectors. Besides enhancing the uptake of digital technologies in the energy sector to mobilise research and innovation, the European Commission ensures interoperability of energy data, platforms and services.

Digitalising the energy sector has massive potential to steer the world towards a more secure, sustainable and smarter energy future.

"Global electric, gas, oil and utility providers are embracing new technologies to improve their efficiency whilst reducing operational costs."

The influx of Internet of Things (IoT) appliances supports the Energy sector's adaptation to a digital world through improved connectivity and efficiency. IoT devices use the Internet to provide connectivity between devices and users. For example, home sensors allow for real-time room temperature monitoring and control over energy consumption patterns. Moreover, IoT devices support consumers in managing their energy use through everyday objects and businesses to find innovative ways to improve productivity and decision-making.

For businesses, real-time applications and intelligent process monitoring can supply data that allows for faster decision-making, improves quality and reduces waste. For example, IoT devices in energy management can deliver real-time insight, support maintenance forecasting and address performance issues through system metrics. Therefore, IoT devices can support the reduction in system downtime – parallel to managing energy consumption patterns and resources to promote positive energy conservation practices. Furthermore, the automation of specific tasks helps to minimise human effort and save costs through modernisation. The effective targeting of IoT applications at specific issues within the energy sector could usher in a lower cost, higher efficiency industry capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

Digital technology is driving the application of intelligent IoT-based solutions across city life. In a smart city, the connection of buildings, urban infrastructure, energy networks and utilities to intelligent sensors allows for monitoring every aspect of life.

To improve a city's efficiency and sustainability, data relating to energy consumption, with the application of cognitive learning and context awareness, informs decision-makers regarding energy demand and delivers cost savings. The rise of smart cities is crucial to dealing with the challenges of pollution, environmental concerns, energy access and demand.

Global electric, gas, oil and utility providers are embracing new technologies to improve their efficiency whilst reducing operational costs.

Energy companies must show flexibility in compliance plans, analyse potential risks on a case-by-case basis, track performance and effectiveness, and ensure high standards of compliance evidence management to handle multiple regulatory bodies and requirements.

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