The energy sector is facing an era of huge transformation. Its core products and the method of their delivery are changing beyond recognition.
As such, no-one can predict the future with certainty. But what we do know is we’ll all be using much greener energy over the next few decades. There is consensus about the need to decarbonise our economy, with the Committee on Climate Change recently calling on MPs to introduce a new target of a 100 per cent cut in greenhouse gases by 2050. This would mean households no longer being heated by traditional gas boilers, while society at large switches to green energy, including for transport, as electric vehicles become the norm.
The good news is that the UK is already a world leader in renewable technology. Tumbling renewable costs have been a large factor in helping with the adoption of wind and solar power. As costs decline further, we will begin to step away from the current centralised model of power generation, where a small number of power stations create electricity to be delivered hundreds of miles away. It’s an approach unchanged for decades, inherently inefficient and accounting for about half of the energy lost in the UK.
Going hand in hand with greener, locally generated energy will be a widespread uptake of digital technology. This will have many applications, but a crucial one will be helping the network balance supply with demand. It’s a sophisticated juggling act generating power to meet demand, while storing it so the system is adequately resilient. Artificial intelligence will become an essential tool helping us to better understand how to predict usage and plan for it efficiently. The Internet of Things will also help, as home appliances “communicate” with the network, indicating how and when they are used.
We have the skillset in Amey to create localised grids for power, and we’re already investigating using existing infrastructure such as lamp columns and charging points to support the 5G rollout. Innovation is at the heart of our operations, working closely with our strategic consulting team, taking raw data and modelling it to identify trends and hotspots to determine when and how we intervene in the maintenance of assets.
However, perhaps the most pivotal change we’re likely to see in the coming years is the blurring of a distinction between suppliers and consumers. As opposed to a small number of major suppliers providing energy to the majority, we’ll see stakeholders in micro-generated power selling back energy to the grid. While consuming energy, they’ll also be providers.
People will become increasingly aware of the options available to them and, through their choices, will be dictating how the market adapts. With huge change comes great opportunity – both for customers and those of us working in this soon-to-transform industry. We should embrace this era of change.