The opportunities and challenges raised by the intersection of digitalization and energy were the focus of a two-day workshop held by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris this month that brought together more than 120 global experts.
The workshop was part of an extensive effort by the IEA to examine the relationship between digitalization and energy that will result in a comprehensive report published in October.
“The interest in this topic is strong, but the world’s current understanding of the scale and scope of its potential remains limited, particularly when it comes to analytically-rigorous assessments”, explained Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “Every unit of the IEA – from efficiency to investment, from electricity to transportation, from renewables to modelling, from sustainability to statistics – is examining the implications of digitalization on the energy sector”, added.
The IEA has deep experience analysing the impact of technology, business and policy changes on energy systems. Through its work on smart grids, system integration of renewables, electric vehicles and smart charging, and the use of technology in the oil and gas sector, the IEA has been analysing the impact of digitalization for many years. One of its most-downloaded reports, “More Data, Less Energy,” examined the implications of connected devices on energy demand.
The IEA’s workshop, which was held under Chatham House Rule, examined critical questions that will help inform future analysis and policy recommendations. Speakers and participants represented IEA member and partner governments worldwide, well-established energy companies and new start-ups, major ICT companies, financial actors, environmental organizations, and researchers.
Workshop participants addressed questions such as: How big an impact will digitalization have on energy systems? Which companies and business models are best positioned to take advantage of opportunities presented by digitalization? How can governments and regulators make sure that businesses and consumers benefits from digitalization? And what are the most significant challenges and obstacles?
Thanks to sensors, remote analysis and drones, for instance, operators can use predictive maintenance to extend the life of power generation, transmission and distribution assets. Big data in seismic mapping has significantly increased recoverable resources in oil and gas. The workshop also explored how digital technologies are starting to enable new linkages and interactions between energy supply and demand. Remote control of energy assets such as distributed generation and storage resources within smart grids can enable better electricity load management.
The workshop examined the significant challenges from digital disruption to existing energy business models, and how various market actors are positioning themselves to take advantage of opportunities. Participants explored key policy challenges, including data privacy, ownership, and standardization to strengthening digital resilience, as well as providing a sound regulatory environment for dealing with quickly-evolving technology and workforce challenges.