Electric power’s own digital infrastructure convergence points to a potential global shift to clean energy being at hand
Eight months ago, Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment published “A roadmap to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2030” as part of its contribution to the conversation at the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York City.
Some of the usual suspects for this kind of report were among key points made in the Roadmap, including things like:
“Low-cost solar, wind, and battery technologies are on profitable, exponential trajectories that if sustained, will be enough to halve emissions from electricity generation by 2030.”
“Electric vehicle growth has the potential to reach a 90% market share by 2030 if sustained, but only if strong policies support this direction.
“Digital technology remains a wild card. It could support a rapid transformation of our economic systems or could drive emissions higher.
“Four drivers for rapid transformation are converging: growing social movements, the rise in the number of countries discussing a target of net-zero by 2050, the economic logic of rapid transition and the speed of technological innovation.”
You have noted that all four points have Digital Infrastructure as the common pivotal point.
However, it’s number three that catches our attention. While we loathe having the temerity to question any research that originates with Stanford, this finding suggests that Digital Transformation could exacerbate atmospheric GHG, rather than abate it. We disagree. It isn’t the Digital Transformation of the global economy if it’s not the paradigm-shifting and exponential promise in economic value creation of digitalization and the replacing carbon-based wealth creation with digital and data-based value. That we don’t fully understand the economic mechanisms of this yet, they are planetary in scale, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be as equally profound — if not more so — than the first three were. While we think we are far advanced along the journey, we are really just scratching the surface.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the transformation now taking place in every technology layer of the digital infrastructure stack, IoT edge to hyperscale cloud.
Further, there is no such thing as “profitiable, exponential trajectories” for renewable energy (wind and solar) that isn’t digitally transformative; meaning that it is precisely the technologies of DX that make such Industry 4.0 event possible. Fiberoptic networking coupled with 5G mobile/wireless converged with the AI/ML-enabled IoT edge, the Internet and cloud computing are the centerpiece technology suite of DX of energy. It has been referred to as the Internet of Energy.
In Part I, the focus was on the “just-around-the-corner” development grid-scale energy storage.
Renewable generation capacity, closely paired with storage capacity, and under microgrid IoT edge control will be blazingly fast (1Gbps) and with low network latency (30ms) as tested in both Chicago and Minneapolis by Verizon — with 1ms latency in developers’ sights (that’s faster than the eye can inform the brain (about 10ms).
What does this mean and why does it matter in the exponential change in the sustainable digital transformation of energy?
This energy-sector 5G digitalization, advanced software-defined networking, AI-enabled data analytics at the “IoT edge of energy” both drives increased efficiency throughout the electric power ecosystem, improves process control is markedly improved, and the user experience is driving adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which in turn require advanced networking technologies to ensure a seamless exchange of data.
Utility-related communications are among the most demanding of IoT applications, with millions of devices needing to be wirelessly connected with an extreme degree of security and reliability. The 5G connected Industrial IoT is the engine of the digital transformation of the energy sector. This is what will first augment and ultimately replace SCADA, as the key fully autonomous process control.
Utilities are investing hard and heavy in the IIoT as part of up-levelling the smart grids. AI-enablement at the utilities’ IIoT edge means prediction of equipment and systems failures, blindingly fast detection of outages, isolating and rerouting, and service restoration of service, instantaneous load balancing. IoT Sensors and monitors for gathering data from both users and the service infrastructure can be aided by drones.
Wind, solar and the IIoT
Frequently, both wind turbine generation and solar arrays have to be sited in harsh environments where they can be subjected to violent or extreme weather events. The ability for IIoT sensors monitoring performance and enabling “remote-hands” maintenance and operations is an important key to power generation and transmission resiliency and continuous uptime availability.
As noted in Part I of this two-part series, the intermittent and variable characteristics of renewable generation is an obstacle to full utility-scale grid integration. This intermittency problem makes it difficult to compete with fossil fuel-powered generation, for so long as the raw cost is the chief determinant.
(That may not be the case as governments seek carbon-reduction accelerators to the clean energy transition — from incentives to carbon tax penalties.)
To increase renewable energy supply reliability, utilities are investing in high-capacity storage technologies managed by IIoT microgrid storage systems. This end of the storage market is currently growing at 33 percent CAGR, and this growth velocity can be anticipated to increase as the availability of cost and capacity of grid-scale storage to where it can balance grid supply improves.
Creating new economic value
Another bright-and-shiny facet of the IoT-defined digital infrastructure transformation of energy is the application of energy-smart grid blockchain to create digital energy assets, which become a pathway to new digital-economy value creation and peer-to-peer energy market trading.
By 2024, forecasters suggest there will be over four billion cellular mobile/wireless IoT connections globally by 2024, many of which will teleconnect the IoT sensors attached to everything that can generate data in every economic sector — none left out.
Despite the Stanford researcher’s doubts the digitally transformative 5G IoE(nergy) and AI/ML-enabled edge compute analytics will ultimately support a sustainable future for everyone.
To get to a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 — the UN IPCC target means becoming Carbon Neutral by 2030. This is the first milestone on the way to Carbon Zero by 2050. This is in order to hold global warming to 1.5°C above planet temperatures at the dawn of the carbon-fired economy at about the end of the 19th Century.
Decarbonizing the energy sector is a key to meeting UN Sustainable Development Goals, however, taking internal combustion engine cars and trucks off the highways, and replacing them with electric vehicles is a fast mandate that will likely require government intervention across the industrialized western economies to make it a reality.
But another digitalization topic for another day.