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Livestream report - A climate-neutral Europe? Only if we digitalize the energy sector

A climate neutral Europe

ITALIAN VERSION

During the EU Sustainable Energy Week in Brussels (17-20 June), the European Commission held the conference “How will digitalization transform the energy system?”, where several experts discussed the role of new digital technologies to achieve a fast, fair and attractive energy transition towards a carbon-free Europe.

Digitalization in the Energy Sector is fundamental to develop long-term climate and energy strategies – both at national and at EU level – requiring all transition policies to make the most of new digital solutions.  

EU has a strong vision about achieving a sustainable energy system: as claimed by Adrian Joyce (Secretary General of EuroACE and Chairman of the Coalition for Energy Savings), Europe wants to make a fast, fair and attractive energy transition by 2050, co-creating a climate-neutral economy while getting all the stakeholders together around a table to better achieve long-term goals.

Talking to all actors surely prolongs the process; nevertheless, digitalization is a very cross-cutting topic and policymakers must proceed in such a way to produce quality and effective legislation.

Four key recommendations for energy transition

The excitement around digitisation is justified: this societal trend means greater energy savings in the future, although it brings significant risks along with great promises. In fact, the way Europe decides to manage digitalization could have a positive or negative impact on energy consumption patterns in the future.

For this reason the Coalition for Energy Savings - a membership that unites businesses, local authorities, cooperatives and civil society organisations in pursuit of a sustainable European Union - formulated 4 key recommendations to achieve this goal:

  1. apply the “energy efficiency first” principle, key enabler of energy transition and to be deployed in all policy areas affecting energy;
  2. support implementation of adopted directives and enforce existing laws;
  3. put in place good infrastructure planning for supporting the transition;
  4. analyse societal trends and study how to make the most of it (starting with digitalization).

But Digitalization also means a raise in energy consumption…

Andrea Voigt (Director General of EPEE and member of the steering committee of The Coalition for Energy Savings) pointed out a significant paradox about digitalization: on the one hand, this societal trend has as a lot of potential for reaching energy optimization, but on the other one it is a very energy consuming process and we could go in the very opposite direction of energy efficiency.

Just think about the massive data centres all around the World, whose energy consumption is skyrocketing due to the huge amount of data-streaming they must process, store and analyse, besides the quantity of energy used to cool the massive heat generated.

Another example could be the transition from “regular” homes to smart homes: their automation and their interconnection to a grid of smart building - who interact with each other constantly and simultaneously - surely will require a great amount of energy.

Finally, we must not forget all the other trends connected to digitalization and their impact on the energy demand to properly function (e.g. artificial intelligence, sharing economy and prosumerism)

How Digitalization can concretely save energy?

Almut Bonhage (Communications and project manager of the Coalition for Energy Savings) claimed that digitalization is fundamental if EU wants energy transition to happen, being a powerful leverage to decrease energy consumption.

In this light, digitalization can accelerate and scale-up end-use efficiency. For example:

  • in the transport sector can bring connectivity, sharing and automation. Besides, digital solutions for trucks could reduce energy use for road freight by 20-25%;   
  • as for buildings, smart controls will improve living comfort and will completely transform the way we use the energy to power them;
  • in industry, implementing digital energy management systems will enable real-time data and control, helping save 10-20% of energy use just through optimization.

Also, digitalization can unlock further opportunities in the wider energy system: let’s think of smart homes which, collocated in smart grids, will have multiple roles and not only be energy consumers (for example with solar energy the citizen is empowered and becomes a producer of energy, which will put it into circulation thanks to the home’s connectivity to a grid).

Nevertheless, digitalization requires the creation of new markets for flexibility and ancillary services, while the existing markets must open to new business models (such as virtual power plants).

What stakeholders think about digitalization?

The European Association of Electrical Contractors, represented by Secretary General Giorgia Concas, claimed that to design and deliver the most appropriate up-to-date energy solutions for both infrastructure and buildings they need appropriate digital skills, urging the Member States to find a way to offer them digital trainings.

The European Energy Retailers, represented by their President Michele Governatori, remarked their important role of collecting timely information of energy consumption thanks to digital instruments (such as up-to-date meters) and its consequent use in order to raise customer awareness about the scarcity of energy.    
In fact, showing citizens their consumption habits make them understand both the value of the service and the value of the commodity, stimulating them to optimize their energy consumption habits.

Finally Leah Charpentier (Head of European Regulatory Affairs & Government Relations, First Solar) pointed out that solar electricity already exists on digital scale - unlike traditional electricity – although, right now, “the way we produce solar energy is not as effective as it could be”.
In fact there is too much loss of clean energy because  the one in excess does not enter in a grid due to the absence of connectivity between buildings. 

Installing solar panels on buildings and connecting them to the distribution and transmission grids can provide ancillary services, empower citizens and create flexibility for this source, capable to respond on variable market needs. Indubitably, such level of integration can only be achieved with digitalization. 

Showing the real value of energy

New digital technologies have the potential to reshape, modernize and transform Europe energy system, making it sustainable and climate-neutral; in this process, energy efficiency is essential and needs to play a leading role in sustainable energy transition.  

Digitalization is an enabler of energy savings and now the technology is ready and must be applied in concrete to solve the energy optimization and sustainability problems that our society has,  bringing to life the European Commission’s Clean Energy Package and heading towards a  decarbonised economy in the next decades.

Finally, as Adrian Joyce stated, we should show to the European citizens the real value of energy so that they will consume more cautiously. In fact, all energy is precious and, whatever the source, we must be very responsible about the use we do with it.

Elia Grassilli

Europe Direct Emilia Romagna