The energy transition that the world is undertaking is one of the most critical areas where innovation needs to be at its very best, that top of the game to make the level of change necessary.
The existing solutions found in wind and solar solutions jockeying to replace oil, gas, and coal, in our present electricity distribution, as well as our current customer solutions for managing our energy, will only take you so far in our need to change our energy systems.
If we are to meet the mandated Paris Agreement of 2015, where member states agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees C versus pre-industrial levels by 2050, we have to look at every climate change mitigation we can find. We have to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 to 95 percent of the 1990 level by 20150. Today the solutions are centered on decarbonization, applying digitalization, and switching to an energy system that is more decentralized than at present and it is finding imaginative, innovating solutions that become essential to achieve this climate change through the energy transition we are undertaking.
We must find innovative solutions to reduce local air pollution, strength the energy security and develop a more significant energy system that is resilience to minimize the shutdowns and power outs. We need to find solutions to reliable and sustainable energy solutions that deal with heating, lighting, cooking, and cooling. Any change needs to find a way to create local economic value and jobs, as others in any change of this magnitude will be displaced.
We need to switch from fossil fuel into renewables, and the whole shift of significant invested assets for power generation and distribution have to accommodate an energy mix that provides us electricity certainty 24 x 7.
As we switch from conventional power to renewables or we look to upgrade the distribution grids, we need to look towards innovative solutions.
Everything we are looking at in energy solutions faces a scalability challenge. We must continue to decarbonize challenging industry sectors like steel, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals or our transportation systems if we wish to achieve any positive outlook of curbing carbon emissions and move onto a pathway towards a zero-carbon future.
Where can innovation help?
The opening answer is everywhere within the energy system. Technological and systemic innovation is incredibly important to the end-user sectors of transport, industry, and buildings, as well as replacing and upgrading much of the overall system design and operation to generate increased electrification. We need to digitalize our grid services, provide new concepts for the grid and local storage, provide improved smart charging for electric vehicles, add different ways of building into the energy system the idea of mini-grids.
Each day there seems some level of innovation development, but my aim here is not to list these or where they need to go in future but to take a broader view of where and how innovation can help in general terms
Innovation needs to resolve different parts of the energy transition
Any discoveries are unpredictable, but if there are sound well-established innovation systems in place, you can pursue solutions that have both short-term medium-term and longer-term approaches to advancing the understanding of a solution. For example, improving battery technology, improving charging efficiencies for an electric vehicle, or exploring different storage capacity for longer times.
Any energy transition takes a long time, and it requires a highly collaborative and multidisciplinary approach. For example, wind solutions have continued to evolve as we learn to explore new materials, improve the integration of advanced technology development, improve the blade technology, as well as a gaining a greater understanding of weather conditions for strength and resilience. From the first wind turbines of less than 30 KW, we now have 9MW or more today. Wind turbines have evolved for over forty years. Wind turbines are just not seen on land, but we have floating wind farms out at sea. Innovation takes a long time to push existing knowledge and find new solutions.
We are seeing discoveries that come from the interface of different areas where imagination sees possibilities and experiments in applying the principles to a completely different field or problem.
Innovation is a long hard task of iterative improvements and some rare breakthroughs, and this requires increasing collaborations between public, private, and research institutions to pursue together ideas and concepts. It is their combined disciplines and understanding that can push design and solutions in a continued, innovative way.
Innovation inspires action; it can focus on efforts and drive synergies if set up correctly. It is having a well-established innovation process or a clear, transparent one you can engage, communicate, and build shared understanding. That sense of collective identity has a more significant chance of generating new innovative solutions.
Collaborative working needs a system that offers a portfolio approach to ideas generated, concepts investigated, and potential solutions in the innovation pipeline, so the portfolio provides a common purpose and that shared understanding.
Innovation is often made up of novel solutions. As energy has significant areas of complexity, the better the understanding in standards, in the harmonization of approaches, in recognizing “universal” performance, there is this potential, of burden share. Investments in any new energy solution need to work through validation to commercialization in established ways. It builds mutual learning that adds more momentum to solve the problems and improve the designs.
Sharing the best ideas allows for more significant open exchanges. Governments, institutions, and the private sector each have roles to play in any transition of this size. The Private sector mostly brings innovations to market, yet all parties are involved in sharing risks or can be supportive and mutually re-inforcing. Through collaborations, they can jointly validate, promote, and clear the pathway for new innovations that require regulations to adapt to change when new solutions are being explored, tested, and commercialized.
Innovation has a central role to play in the energy system.
Our need is to keep pushing for discoveries, for experimentation, for demonstrating. We must nurture innovation, and we must continuously look for ways to facilitate its pathway. Innovation is made up of many enabling technologies; it needs to be built in a highly systematic way. The need is to continually look for re-imagining new market designs and business models to stimulate the changes and solutions for our future energy transformation.
Energy is a vital part of any country’s ability to be competitive. Today half the world’s capital is invested in energy and its related infrastructure as it is the backbone of any industrial and urbanization strategy.
Our economic prosperity will be determined by transforming the energy sector, and it is through innovation we will achieve this.
Innovation is vital to the integration and operation design of the energy system, and we need to recognize its crucial role.