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The Spark of Innovation can deliver the Energy Transition

image credit: Adapted and built by paul4innovating
Paul Hobcraft's picture
Innovation & Energy Knowledge Provider, Agility Innovation

I work as a transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, within IIoT, and the energy system as my points of focus. I relate content to context to give greater knowledge and build the...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Sep 10, 2020

Where can innovation help within the Energy Transition to rapidly advance it?

The opening answer is everywhere within the energy system. Technological and systemic innovation is incredibly important to the end-user sectors of transport, industry, and buildings, as well as replacing and upgrading much of the overall system design and operation to generate increased electrification.

We need to digitalize our grid services, provide new concepts for the grid and local storage, provide improved smart charging for electric vehicles, add different ways of building into the energy system the idea of mini-grids. On the present count, in a just-released report in September 2020 by the IEA called “Energy Technology Perspectives 2020, they analyze over 800 technology options that need to happen for the world to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Each day there seems some level of innovation development, but my aim here is not to list these or where they need to go in the future but to take a broader view of where and how innovation can help in general terms within the energy transition. We all need a sense of bearing or a compass that shows us the way. Our job is is “spark” and ignite innovation within the Energy Transition. To give innovation more resources and support.

Innovation has a central role to play in the energy system.

Our need is to keep pushing for discoveries, for experimentation, for demonstrating. We must nurture innovation, and we must continuously look for ways to facilitate its pathway. Innovation is made up of many enabling technologies; it needs to be built in a highly systematic way. The need is to continually look for re-imagining new market designs and business models to stimulate the changes and solutions for our future energy transformation.

Energy is a vital part of any country’s ability to be competitive. Today half the world’s capital is invested in energy and its related infrastructure as it is the backbone of any industrial and urbanization strategy.

Our economic prosperity will be determined by transforming the energy sector, and it is through innovation we will achieve this. To avoid the predicted consequences of climate change, the global energy system must rapidly reduce its emissions. The vast majority of global CO2 emissions come from the energy sector, making cleat our urgent need for a cleaner energy system

Innovation is vital to the integration and operation design of the energy system, and we need to recognize its crucial role. We must undertake a radical transformation in the way we supply, transform, and use energy. This requires a profound transformation in technologies, systems, and infrastructure

Innovation needs to be at the top of its game, to be accelerated.

The energy transition that the world is undertaking is one of the most critical areas where innovation needs to be at its very best, that top of the game to make the level of change necessary. We need to deploy every innovative tool to leverage ideas and discoveries and then accelerate the validation into a commercialization path, sooner than later.

Innovation needs to get out of the laboratories, moved from theory to application, and off the desk of those executives who are failing to see the urgency of change we need to achieve the energy transition. Innovation has risk always associated with it but that imperative to push the boundaries does need always to be constantly in our minds, global warming is our “burning platform” and we need to ramp up our need for solutions that can reduce greenhouse gases, redesign energy generation, transmission, and distribution

We need to keep pushing for more innovation from the existing solutions found in wind and solar solutions jockeying to replace oil, gas, and coal. We need to discover different methods of storing and distributing electricity. We also need to keep exploring new business models to radically alter the engagement with the final consumers. Solutions that evolve them and allow them to manage their energy solutions in a rapidly decentralizing energy system.

Pushing our present understanding, looking beyond the known

Today the solutions are centered on decarbonization, applying digitalization, and switching to an energy system that is more decentralized than at present. It is finding imaginative, innovating solutions that become essential to achieve this climate change through the energy transition we are undertaking.

We need to extend the reach of electricity, we need to focus on Hydrogen, validate carbon capture and storage (CCUS) as well as bioenergy and take them out of the lab, out of the realms of theory and validate the innovation concepts into scalable ones that deliver the gaps we have in our energy transition.

We must find innovative solutions to reduce local air pollution, strengthen energy security, and develop a more significant energy system that is resilient to minimize the shutdowns and power outs. We need to find solutions to reliable and sustainable energy solutions that deal with heating, lighting, cooking, and cooling. Any change needs to find a way to create local economic value and jobs, as others in any change of this magnitude will be displaced.

Mandated and Needed

If we are to meet the mandated Paris Agreement of 2015, where member states agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees C versus pre-industrial levels by 2050, we have to look at every climate change mitigation we can find. We have to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 to 95 percent of the 1990 level by 2050. That level of mitigation needs an awful lot of innovation energy!

Everything we are looking at in new energy solutions to replace existing ones faces a scalability challenge.  We must continue to explore and find commercially viable ways to de-carbonize challenging industry sectors like steel, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals, or our transportation systems if we wish to achieve any positive outlook of curbing carbon emissions and move onto a pathway towards a zero-carbon future.

It is going to be the ability to harness the existing with the new and this is the role of innovation, to deliver the changes by not only being the bridge but being the catalyst of change with new technology and innovative solutions.

Innovation must be at the forefront of the energy change otherwise we will fail to deliver on the 2050 commitments and goals and that will have consequences for our very existence as we know it. The IEA report just released is indicating on their revised view, the trajectory for reaching a net-zero CO2 set of emissions will be around 2070. So we are on this account already twenty years behind our goals. 

We have an awful lot of innovation to do to reduce this gap and make the energy transition between now, in 2020, and 2050 happen to achieve the clean energy system we require, otherwise, who knows what will occur, more flooding, more economic hardships, more devastating fires, a breaking down of our economic system based on our reliance on energy? Perhaps it is in our hands after all.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 10, 2020

Who do you see as the big movers and shakers in this innovative space-- governments for funding it? utilities for implementing them? labs where the creativity is flowing? Who are going to be the leaders in the next decade?

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Sep 13, 2020

I opened this post with this

Where can innovation help within the Energy Transition to rapidly advance it?

The opening answer is everywhere within the energy system.

To reply to your question "The opening answer is everyone within the energy system"

Those that invest in innovation will lead. Those that lag will continue to simply do that "lag".

Today China and the EU seem to be laying in the better infrastructure for change. The level of new players investing in alternative technologies or spotting the "spill-over effects" are ahead of the older more mature players who have so much vested interest in existing customers and solutions. In time they will come with their open checkbooks and catch up, as digital technology has shown but the tree gets shaken and the weaker or rotten apples fall to the ground.

Innovation is about creative flow; investing in experiments, pilots, bolder initiatives and we are seeing clear differences in utilities, in energy solution providers, in where the investor's money is going.

The leaders are all in plain sight, it is ours to find them

I wrote on my innovation posting site, some time back

"You can determine the competencies required of everyone for innovation to be more within the core of the organization as well as you can address those that are specific. The approaches taken to alignment must continue to map back to 1) the business strategy, 2) vision and missions, 3) the innovation needs and 4) the pathway development that is taken to achieve this alignment."



Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Sep 12, 2020

Sometime the necessary innovation is gaining a new appreciation of a neglected technology.

While the West struggles to give renewables a boost against a soaring fossil gas market share, China has resumed nuclear power plant new-build approvals, for electrical power as well as district heating.

And in this interview, the chief engineer at China's State Power Investment Corporation reports that in China (one of very few locations that are actually doing an objective side-by-side comparison, at scale) nuclear power is still cheaper than renewables.

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Sep 13, 2020

China is fascinating to watch. They continue to invest in coal, in abundance and value for employment and building basic infrastructure internally, not from ports, they continue to understand hydrogen but are about to import the West know-how and technology to upgrade the existing, they explore renewables of wind, solar and hydro in mega-sized dams, farms or clusters and nuclear does not go through the same "social debate" as it does here in the West. To lead in the development of the modular solution for Nuclear is a race to win, who is leading, who is lagging.

Nuclear investments need to be made, again it is taking theories and making them realizable in the "real" world of demonstration, validation and commercialization. There are pockets of this happening, the US should commit more into their nuclear programmes built on more compact designs in my view

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Thank Paul for the Post!
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