There’s no decarbonisation without data


The IPCC report released in August is the latest wake up-call to Australia that it must lift its weight to prevent the looming climate catastrophe. The report concludes that permanent climate change is closer than previously thought, with temperatures expected to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, unless urgent action is taken.

The action we must take is clear, and the tools we need are at hand. Decarbonisation demands grid improvements, measurable corporate sustainability transformations and the collective will of energy consumers. The common prerequisite in each of these elements is the sophisticated use of energy data.

At a network level, we must modernise our grid so that it’s fit for purpose in a 100% renewables future. This means it must be able to manage distributed, fluctuating generation loads from both behind and in front of the meter, and must be able to balance those loads using batteries at both a grid scale and a household scale.

Network operators must have technology that provides a dynamic and granular picture of demands and inputs. In addition to physical infrastructure improvements, we must implement technology that provides minute-by-minute visibility, allowing network operators to predict and respond to momentary changes within the grid.

An unfortunate situation arises as the priorities of securing the network are at odds with the interests of solar powered households, resulting in a sun tax” that charges households to feed energy into the grid. The costs are a necessity to grid maintenance but also a disincentive for renewable behind-the-meter generation. Ultimately, the energy transition suffers.

A responsive, dynamic, and detailed grid digitisation project can move us past the policies that slow our decarbonisation and toward a future where we are a renewable energy superpower and high carbon-emitting energy sources are obsolete. 

Data is also a crucial precondition to the decarbonisation at a company and sector level. Effective change is impossible without accurate measurements. Corporate energy users who have made commitments to be 100% renewable to their investors, boards, staff, and customers must make that commitment an operation rather than an aspiration.

This requires a new approach to energy use and procurement. With sustainability commitments under increasingly intense scrutiny, corporate energy users must implement technology that monitors their use against their spend in real time. They must be able to show their stakeholders where their energy is coming from, how it is being used, and what measures they are taking to ensure this is in line with their sustainability pathways in real time.

The technology they use must be understandable, robustly reliable, and transparent to all parties. Public blockchain technology, which can create a trusted, unalterable, and transparent ledger of transactions and usage, is best practice in this emerging area.

Finally at a household level we must empower energy consumers to use their smart meter data to make informed decisions about their energy purchases—whether they have solar panels and batteries or not.

The long-awaited consumer data right for energy users is currently under industry consultation from the Federal Treasury. This will let consumers choose who they share their data with, and for what purposes. Properly implemented, this should let energy retailers and consumers work together to hasten the shift to renewable energy by leveraging the combined demand of millions of householders.

Energy retailers who want to take advantage of this consumer demand can use smart contracts to construct virtual PPAs based on the projected demand of many thousands of energy users. This can provide householders with certainty that their energy spend is going to renewable generation projects. It can even let users choose to support a specific generation project—for example, one that is creating local jobs in their area—with their power bills.

This aggregate demand will drive the installation of further renewable generation capacity as generators respond to newly visible demands and preferences made clear through the ability of consumers to share data. To be clear, the networks must themselves be modernised to accommodate for this increase in renewable generation sources.

At every level in our energy industry, from the individual household and corporate customers, to the network operators and regulators, data is the key to energy transformation. If we use the technology that is available, everyone can play their role in the rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector. If we choose to stall and maintain the status quo the consequences are clear to all of us.

Author: Kaspar Kaarlep – Chief Technology Officer & co-founder at technology company WePower

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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