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With the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 only a few months away, excitement is building across the utilities industry. The "Code Red for Humanity" IPCC report has further heightened the importance of the Race to Zero campaign launched by the UK government last year.

The campaign is a commitment by business and government to setting more ambitious targets aiming to at least halve emissions by 2030 and reach a balance of net zero by 2050. However, many organisations in the utilities sector have taken this challenge further and embarked on roadmaps to achieve net zero on operational emissions by 2030.

Customers are much more aware of their suppliers’ performance around corporate responsibility initiatives and the impact they are having on climate change. These two forces are working together to push the utilities industry into setting ambitious targets for emissions reduction.

This poses a unique challenge for utilities. Most organisations involved in the utilities industry have significantly reduced emissions over the past 10 years while improving services to consumers. Most of the “easy wins” have already been completed. So where can the industry turn next to continue its quest to become net zero by 2030?

At Sopra Steria we believe many utility organisations need to squeeze digital technologies further in order to unlock the potential of their technology investments, and realise their strategies.

One area where technology can make a significant difference is the ongoing development of smart grids. Since the late 1990s government and utilities have been using technological advances to make grids “smarter”. In doing so they are creating more resilient and efficient systems which not only minimise disruption, but provide consumers with data to manage their own consumption more effectively. The next transformative step in smart grids is the use of blockchain technology. Improved flexibility of smart grids allows for the integration of various energy sources such as solar and wind. Through developing tokenised blockchain-based smart grids, the adoption of renewable sources can be increased as consumers can be incentivised to use renewables.

Blockchain has the potential to be transformative for consumers too. For example, recycling and waste are challenging issues which will be discussed at COP26. Plastics in oceans is often headlined with most consumers aware of the implications of their waste habits. Utility organisations can take lessons from this. They can use blockchain technology to track recycled materials and set incentives, financial or otherwise, for people to recycle.

Any conversation about using technology to reduce emissions is not complete without mentioning Digital Twins. The Digital Twin is a virtual real-time model of a real world entity, an asset, person or process. This bridging of real world and virtual allows for the collation, understanding and analysis of data like never before. The value of data and insights gained through Digital Twins is powerful, and can be used to improve operations, and emissions. It is a unique disruptor that can be used to model future scenarios, targeting improvements. A real world example is in Valencia, Spain, where an at-scale Digital Twin has been developed for a water and wastewater utility, which allows then to collect more than six billion data points per year, providing valuable insights of their operations.

The Internet of Things, Digital Twins, and smart sensors are going to be crucial in the fight against climate change. The rise of interconnected AI-based solutions will drastically change how the industry works moving forwards. From the at-scale digital twin, to more tactical solutions such as SmartValve, an innovative cross-platform app designed specifically to schedule and monitor all manual valve operations, reducing poorly executed valve operations which are a major cause of leaks and bursts.

The post COP26 era will be one of the most interesting and disruptive periods to face the utility industry for decades. It is encouraging that the utilities industry is not viewing COP26 as the conclusion, but as a catalyst to do more. At Sopra Steria our hope for COP26 is that nations agree to increase effort to respond to climate change, which in turn fuels innovations, opportunities, and changes in regulations to realise global net zero ambitions. Digital technology investments and the development of the right technology strategy for utility organisations will play a critical part in shaping this new future.

For more information about the services Sopra Steria provides to utility organisations please visit https://www.soprasteria.co.uk/industries/energy-and-utilities

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