The energy industry is undergoing a profound process of change. This is because digitization, decentralization, democratization and decarbonization affect all parts of its value chain, with far-reaching effects on technologies, workflows and business models.
Smart Energy, Smart Grid, Smart Power, Smart Home, Smart Cities - the "clever" adjective has not only infiltrated large areas of our daily lives, it also plays a decisive role in the energy industry. But the road from buzzword to implementation is rocky and long. Data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and the like may have lost their hype status, but they are not self-evident.
Yet the use of AI in the energy sector is not new. Already in 2011, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), AGT Germany and Seeburger AG together with Stadtwerke Saarlouis started the "Peer Energy Cloud" project. The intelligent processing of the power consumption of individual sockets in private households should optimize the load flow and install a virtual marketplace for power trading in the so-called "Micro Grid". However, this project has not yet triggered a flood of imitators.
This is also shown by a study conducted by the Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU) and the BET Office for Energy Management in November 2019. Of the 58 utility companies surveyed, only thirteen percent have already started to implement "smart grid projects", while seven percent are still in the planning stage.
In fact, 99 percent of infrastructures worldwide are not "smart," as Cedrik Neike, CEO of Siemens Smart Infrastructure, recently stated in an interview with the online offering SmarterWorld. But that's the prerequisite for mastering the issues of resource efficiency, decarbonization and environmental compatibility in the future.
After all, seventy percent of the Earth's 9.7 billion inhabitants will be living in cities by 2050, according to the UN. Buildings will then account for over a third of energy consumption. In addition, by 2035, half of the ever-increasing total energy consumption will come from renewable energies from countless small producers.
Even now, however, demand and supply in the power grid must be constantly balanced. In the future, this complex task will only be manageable with intelligent energy networks due to the increasing feed-in of renewable energies. This "Internet of Energy" works with state-of-the-art information and communication technologies (ICT) and measuring equipment from generation to consumption. On the customer side, this is done by intelligent electricity meters (smart meters) and, in the next step, also by electrical consumers who, for example, only start their "job" independently when there is an excess supply of electricity.
There is still a lot to be done before then. That's the bad news. The good news is that "smart energy" is proving to be a very lucrative market. Cedrik Neike, CEO of Siemens Smart Infrastructure, predicted in an interview with "SmarterWorld" that the global core market for Smart Infrastructure would be worth around 150 billion euros per year. He sees annual growth in the low single-digit percentage range. Distributed energy systems and energy storage systems are expected to grow by ten percent each, and the infrastructure for electromobility by thirty percent in the next five years.
According to a study by the Association of German Municipal Enterprises (VKU) in October 2019, distribution network operators in Germany alone will have to invest around seven billion euros in the development of smart grids by 2030 in order to be prepared for the "turnaround" with the energy network.
Where the journey will lead in the future can be experienced already now at the gates of Vienna. The showcase project Aspern Smart City (ASCR) - winner of the World Smart City Award 2016 - is implementing technical solutions for the new energy world with real end customers. They are all based on state-of-the-art information and communication technologies (ICT) with suitable big-data models.
In Aspern, for example, the "Green House" is the world's first passive house plus student residence. It produces its own electricity, forecasts when residents will shower, stores excess energy for colder days and trades on the balancing energy market. And it does so completely independently. This not only saves energy and thus money, the electricity exchange even promises profits.
In the coming project phase "ASCR 2023", a total of 17 new "Use Cases" will be the focus of research activities. These include a number of applications relating to electromobility. For example, the charging of car batteries through the use of decentralized renewable energies. In the future, it will also be possible to automatically "refuel" (smart charging) vehicles depending on the current energy price and user behavior. And in a further step, car batteries will then feed electricity into the grid as required - "Vehicle to Grid".
Another exciting ASCR research topic is the use of digital building twins. These virtual images permanently provide current states of real building units, facilities or areas. For example, as a basis for predictive maintenance. According to a survey conducted by Sopra Steria Consulting, sixty percent of energy suppliers saw precisely this as the central benefit of artificial intelligence in 2017.
The more households produce green electricity themselves, the more the boundaries between producers and consumers become blurred. The latter then actively participate in the energy market as so-called "prosumers" and generate the smallest energy flows that have to be managed at low transaction costs. At the same time, new, customer-centric distribution models are emerging. According to a study by Detecon, the topic of block chaining is thus gaining significantly in importance in the energy industry. This is because the technology, which is known above all in the context of the crypto currency Bitcoin, promises direct interaction between players without third parties while at the same time ensuring absolute data sovereignty. Prosumers, for example, can trade their generated solar power with each other in an uncomplicated and secure manner.
Similarly, block chain transactions between charging station and electricity consumer can be automated via block chain. So-called "smart contracts" already make the provider's processes between charging and payment much more efficient and cost-effective. However, the majority of Detecon study participants do not expect the technology to be ready for the market until the next five years.
Last but not least, energy supply as a critical infrastructure has always been subject to high security requirements. This includes not only the prevention of attacks on the IT infrastructure (security) and operational safety (safety), but also data protection (privacy). The increasing networking and digitalization of the energy industry is now leading to a significant increase in the risk situation and thus in the demands on security. After all, even every "smart" electricity meter in households represents a potential gateway.