The Importance of Technology Innovation in Driving Energy Transition

Gethin Davies
December 14, 2022

Increased demand for, and use of, electricity and heat produced from fossil fuels, combined with a growing global population, have led to increasing amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere and rising temperatures. 

Using energy more efficiently and moving to more renewable / low carbon sources is essential to reduce CO2 emissions, reach net zero and tackle climate change.  

To minimise carbon emissions in the energy industry, innovative technologies are required. Increased investment in R&D is necessary, but they will not produce the desired outcomes in isolation.

Digital transformation is  key to the future of business, and has a significant impact on both environmental and corporate sustainability. Increasingly advanced and indeed emerging economies are driven by data. At the same time, consumers desire simplicity, efficiency and convenience and businesses must provide these elements in order to remain competitive.

The Beginning: Energy Transition Advancing a Lower Carbon Future

Energy transition refers to a shift away from carbon-based fuels to low / no carbon and net zero alternatives. To achieve it, businesses and organisations must reduce their carbon footprint and take action to address climate change. It also means that organisations need to embrace digital transformation in order to maintain customer satisfaction, product production, and growth while meeting sustainability goals.  

“Green technology” can cover any technology aimed at achieving net zero. Examples include electric transport, wind turbines and solar panels.

Energy storage is also seen as crucial to aid the further deployment of renewable technologies on the power grid. Battery storage allows energy grid managers to smooth  demand surges and cover any intermittency of supply from renewable sources. Green and innovative technologies are essential for the energy transition. Combined with other energy efficiency measures, they are necessary to shift to a net zero future.

The transition is well under way.  According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the share of renewables in meeting global energy demand is expected to reach 12.4 percent in 2023, a 20% increase from 2018. Renewables will enjoy the fastest growth in the electricity sector, providing almost 30 per cent of power demand in 2023, up from 24 per cent in 2017. 

Technical advancement is crucial for the energy transition - as is tracking and recording its progress.

The importance of data, tracking, and data security

Any plan to meet global climate and sustainable development goals must use technology and data. However, data is useless unless it is accurate, up to date, and secure. That is why data integrity is so critical.

The use of digital solutions can facilitate the control of renewable energy sources. Initiatives like these may save downtime by managing maintenance with an innovative method to modernise manufacturing processes, making them more competitive and energy-efficient.

The introduction of 'smart factories' combines the best engineering practices and the latest technology, for example, blockchain, virtual reality, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Smart factories employ advanced software, sensors, and robots to gather and scrutinise the data before making important decisions. In power plants, sensors collect data from a dam, turbine or pipe and forward it to control monitoring rooms. Adopting new software allows the operators to point out any abnormal patterns in machine operation and curb potential risks before they occur (predictive maintenance). This enables faster repairs, controlled gas emissions, and non-interference with production.

The adoption of blockchain technology, a decentralised digital ledger where data is safely shared, allows the tracking of renewable energy from its source to the consumer and generates insights into the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. Data such as location and time are also included.

Innovation: Driving the Energy Transition

NASA has been monitoring greenhouse gas emissions for many years. They can capture specific gas emission rates and data, leading to better understanding, control and plans to curb gas emissions. When using blockchain to track, record, and manage data, you introduce trust, security, transparency and accountability into the system.

This is because companies can access and share information with third parties such as  trading partners. All parties involved get a record of each transaction in a decentralised recording mechanism that cannot be interfered with by anyone. Having one source of truth builds trust among the companies involved and makes new collaborations a possibility.

Innovation is driving progress, and we have begun to see small shifts in the right direction. 

  • Thanks to research and development in this area, progress has been achieved in energy storage, a critical component of an effective energy transition. Storage capacity has also increased. According to IRENA, electricity storage will triple by 2030, and costs could fall by more than half (IRENA 2017).
  • In transportation, there have been shifts to electric vehicles, but there is still a long way to go.
  • Heating and cooling of buildings still account for a significant portion of global energy use, and while there have been some developments in this area, we need to see much more to come close to achieving climate goals.

How Blockchain Technology Helps

Perhaps the most exciting innovations of late have come about in blockchain technology. Blockchain has the potential to revolutionise the energy market by providing a more efficient way of allocating energy to specific channels. It can even be used to establish a needs-basis hierarchy. This would quicken the certification of renewable energy and improve traceability.

A blockchain asset comes with a history that can be verified, ensuring authenticity. Within a blockchain, both parties can access the record simultaneously without needing additional authentication.

Blockchain technology allows direct engagement between energy producers and consumers. A direct line of communication will lead to greater understanding between parties, for example, solar panel companies battery system suppliers.

With blockchain platforms transparency can be improved in energy exchange, at all levels, including the use of:

Digital product passports: End-to-end supply chain visibility, asset digitalisation, and tracking.

Many electrical and electronic products often have a short life span as components wear out and designs are improved.  . This leads to e-waste. This has led to the introduction of digital product passports. The primary purpose of passports is to gather and store  data concerning a product and its supply chain and make the data available to all stakeholders and consumers to facilitate a better understanding of a product and its impact on the environment.

Sustainability data: Traceability of circular plastics and renewable fuels, including management of sustainability credits to help substantiate ESG claims.

Blockchain provides a transparent and secure platform for tracing renewable fuels such as solar and circular plastics through the creation of a distributed ledger that facilitates reliable and secure tracking of data.  

Invoice reconciliation: Using Smart Contracts for supplier communications and automated business rule validation.

Blockchain technology can improve efficiency within climate and energy markets through communication between suppliers, improved invoice reconciliation and the validation of automated business rules. Also, blockchain significantly reduces the cost and time associated with each process while improving transparency within the climate and energy markets, ensuring all participants act responsibly.

Growing the Trend: Lower Carbon Business Opportunities

With an increasing awareness of the importance of sustainability, many businesses are looking for ways to lower their carbon footprint. One way to do this is to switch to renewable energy sources including solar, green hydrogen, wind power (off and on shore) , and hydro . 

Solar energy uses  photovoltaic cells to transform sunlight into electricity. Solar energy can also be used for the cooling and heating of buildings and desalinating water.

Green hydrogen is flexible in that it can be transported and stored easily. When used in fuel cells, it can generate electricity and also produce hot water. Wind turbines convert wind energy into electricity, and are currently the cheapest form of renewable energy.

Another way businesses are reducing their carbon footprint is by adopting new consumer services. Smart grids, for example, help businesses automatically adjust their energy use according to off peak demand, preventing blackouts and reducing energy waste. This not only saves businesses money but also helps to reduce emissions.

Consumers are also demanding more renewable / sustainable energy. The energy sector must meet this demand or risk losing customers and revenue.


Blockchain applications for sustainable energy

The First European Platform to Trade Energy

In May 2017, the German software company Ponton launched the first platform to trade energy products over the counter using blockchain. Participants in the gas and electricity generation markets can validate and certify transactions without the involvement of a third party, reducing transaction costs, increasing the efficiency of the value chain, and ensuring safe and fast transactions. In the initial (pilot) version, 39 German power and gas generators participated. In May 2019, the platform was officially launched, allowing its use throughout Europe. Participating companies include Iberdrola (a Spanish energy company), Total (a French oil company), RWE (a German energy company), and Enel (an Italian energy company).

A Case Study in Chile

An example of the real-world application of blockchain in energy was set up in Chile, in 2014. Chile's Ministry of Energy started a Public Solar Roof Program (PTSP) to facilitate the installation of PV systems in public buildings. This project showed what can happen when the public and private sectors work together, using a blockchain platform that promotes integrity and transparency of data. This project was able to reduce CO2 emissions by 800 tons/yr. and saved a quarter of a million dollars in the process.

A Spanish Use Case 

ACCIONA Energía, a Spanish renewable energy company, launched ablockchain project to improve the traceability of renewable energy generated worldwide. It allows consumers to check, in real time, the origin of the renewable energy they are consuming. Five hydroelectric and wind generators in Spain and four corporate clients in Portugal are piloting the project, which will then be scaled up to countries such as Mexico and Chile.

Sun Exchange

The business model involves the purchase of photovoltaic cells and then the leases of them to schools and businesses in emerging markets. People from around the world can buy panels and lease them to recipients and receive dividends for doing so. In this way many households in developing economies are accessing electricity whilst not having to be connected to the grid.