In November, I was pleased to attend the Future of Utilities Summit in London, hearing from some of the industry’s most influential thought leaders, meeting valued clients and partners in person, and witnessing the latest innovations set to transform our sector.
Speakers and attendees dissected the latest trends in the energy and utilities industry. This included the National Grid’s Virtual Energy System and its use of digital twins to help companies share data, why we need to develop the energy network to reach Net Zero by 2050, and the key role of Energy Data Modernisation and cloud computing to support this development.
I was impressed by the level of insight and knowledge that attendees brought to the table. These discussions were thought-provoking and engaging and set the stage for an ambitious vision of where the industry is headed. Coming up with a strategy for a modern digitalised energy system is just the first step. Data-driven decisions and architecture may be the future – but for many, that future is already here.
1. Digital twins will drive the Virtual Energy System
In 2021, the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) launched the Virtual Energy System. The Virtual Energy System is the spearhead of the National Grid’s ongoing campaign to digitise our energy systems.
It is the world’s first real-time, full-scale reproduction of our energy map – used alongside the physical structures to provide clarity and never-before-seen insights. The National Grid ESO’s main purpose is to move electricity around the grid and transfer it to network operators, distributing electricity to homes and businesses. That means this initiative was launched to create a more flexible, interoperable system whose agility and speed serves the consumer just as well as the supplier.
The Virtual Energy System consists of 4 steps:
- Starting with an open framework, making sure to agree on access, operations, and security procedures.
- Populating the system with pre-existing and newer digital twins (reproductions of the physical elements of the energy system).
- Every digital twin adds to, and accesses, real-time data about how other elements of the system are functioning.
- Using these layers of data, we can generate insights and create a virtual environment to put them into action – modernising the system and contributing to Net Zero targets.
Through these steps, the National Grid will introduce a common framework with the aim of creating a common language, recommended infrastructure, and processes to connect and federate individual digital twins from across the energy sector. By doing so, each player can plug in their own digital twin and share data through the Virtual Energy System.
Our work with digital twin technology, supplying AW3D satellite data to enable Vodafone to create a full-scale digital twin of the entire UK for 5G mapping and developing Shot View technology at The Open, has convinced me that the Virtual Energy System will be at the helm of our digital energy transition. By introducing this collaboration tool, we can facilitate greater collaboration and data sharing within the industry.
This tool will allow all of us to tap into and derive learnings from our peers’ data, allowing us to experiment with system assets under different future energy scenarios: improving resilience, reliability, and cost. As digital twin technology continues to be integrated into the energy sector, an improved understanding of our infrastructure and increasingly efficient electricity delivery will drive us forward in leaps and bounds.
2. To reach Net Zero, we must enhance our energy network
One of the key topics discussed at the Summit was decarbonisation. Specifically, how we can prime the utilities industry to reach ambitious Net Zero targets by 2050. To create a low-carbon future, we must develop our green energy network and support the people in utilities companies who are being challenged to come up with creative solutions to emissions-intensive processes.
With electricity generation becoming greener, clean energy exists in abundance. But that energy does no good without the means to store and distribute it. So, as we scale the Net Zero mountain, our efforts must turn towards capacity innovation — allowing the transmission and distribution systems to thrive. To this end, digital twins can be used to simulate the grid and ensure that it is accurate, reliable, and efficient.
Due in part to UK Government directives, electricity generation is becoming increasingly diverse, with a greater mix of low-carbon and renewable sources coming online. The former government even set out ambitious goals to fully decarbonise the UK’s electricity system by 2035. This presents a number of new challenges for the grid operators who must ensure that supply always meets demand, while providing utilities at a competitive rate.
The solution to this issue is not only procedural, but infrastructural too. We cannot rely on simply changing the way we do things without also changing the software and physical devices upon which we depend. That’s why development and innovation is so important: it allows human actors to perform to their fullest capabilities, free of the limitations imposed by outdated infrastructure.
3. Leveraging energy data modernisation and cloud computing to transform our networks
The successful development of our energy system will rely heavily on cloud computing and energy data modernisation. Everything from the analysis of consumer trends to the construction of detailed simulations will require data. This data needs to be not only detailed, labelled, and in real-time – but also interoperable.
To reach Net Zero, we have to collect, analyse, and put into action large volumes of data with increased speed and efficiency. Cloud computing is the perfect platform for this task – enabling energy and utilities companies to store and share vast amounts of pertinent data without the up-front installation costs. Continued evolution and digital transformation against well-equipped competitors is a tall order, but it’s one that a solid cloud strategy can fill.
With Ofgem requirements pressing the importance of open data sharing through interoperable datasets, energy data modernisation is not a question of if, but when. To take advantage of the benefits offered — efficiency, innovation, quality of service, and personalised customer experience — businesses should begin planning sooner rather than later.
The Future of Utilities Summit was a fantastic experience and a welcome chance to reconnect with many of my colleagues in the industry. It seems like now, more than ever, with the introduction of the Virtual Energy System, decarbonisation initiatives, cloud strategies, and energy data modernisation, the energy and utilities industry is ready to embrace the rapid evolution of its systems: creating a more interconnected, brighter, tomorrow.
If you’re struggling to see value from your digital investments or would like to understand how to embrace digital transformation in energy and utilities, get in contact today.