On 17 November 2020, in collaboration with European Energy Forum, EIF organised a debate on the Energy Transition and the Digital Revolution, the real engines that can drive us toward a zero-carbon future that puts the consumer at the centre.
The virtual debate was co-hosted by MEPs Pilar del Castillo, EIF Chair and EEF Vice President, and Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, EIF Steering Committee Member and EEF Vice President. The discussion, co-moderated by Maria Rosa Gibellini, EIF Director General, and Pascale Verheust, EEF Director General, featured the following speakers:
- Mark Van Stiphout, Deputy Head of Unit 'Innovation, clean technologies and competitiveness', DG Energy, European Commission
- Stefan Kapferer, member of the Elia Group Management Board and CEO of 50Hertz
- Dorothée D'Herde, Head of Sustainable Business, Vodafone
- Annika Hedberg, Head of Sustainable Prosperity for Europe programme, EPC
Pilar del Castillo MEP opened the virtual debate affirming that there is no doubt that digital technologies reward all sectors of the economy and have proved to be crucial for the new energy developments. It is true that the digital industry has to reduce its carbon footprint, but it is undeniable that thanks to digital technologies it will be possible to decarbonise the European economy and, at the same time, give consumers a central role in this transition.
The future energy system, stated the MEP, should lead to huge energy savings and enable consumers to access a wide range of competitive energy services. The energy sector has to face the benefits and the challenges of the digital world; likewise, a digital dimension of the single smart energy market is needed to promote standardisation that can guarantee interoperability of services and applications. Digital and energy is a powerful and winning alliance; without it, the path to a zero-carbon future would not be possible.
Miapetra Kumpula-Natri MEP stressed that the future energy system is not only about asking to decarbonise the European economy, but also benefitting consumers and having them to play a central role in the transition. It has to enable a massive take-up of renewables, lead to huge energy savings and allow consumers to access a wide range of competitive energy services.
As noted in the data strategy draft report – of which the MEP is the rapporteur – the ability to process and better handle data has a significant potential for reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses. Nevertheless, the exponential data growth and processing needs to be developed in a way that it does not increase the ICT carbon footprint. Measures need to be taken to ensure transparency of CO2 emissions on data storage and sharing and to promote green data storing techniques.
Mark Van Stiphout, bringing on stage the European Commission’s perspective, stated that the fundamental link between the digital transformation and the Green Deal, will transform the energy market; digital technologies will help run the energy system more efficiently and integrate more renewables. There is the need to make sure that (1) the energy grid stays secure, safeguarding both cybersecurity and privacy dimensions (2) the increase in energy consumption of the IT sector becomes efficient and drives investments in renewables (3) the energy sector makes the best use of the new technologies and (4) the move away from products to services – the real transformative power of the digital technologies and digitalisation of the energy sector, according to Mr. van Stiphout – is provided with the right infrastructure.
The European Commission is trying to push the digitalisation of the energy sector through a lot of projects and innovation via Horizon 2020, bringing network operators together with suppliers to develop one type of interoperability data exchange infrastructure that will allow an easier access to this type of market, and through creating a network code on flexibility and a delegated act on interoperability. This is also going to be part of the Digitalisation of Energy Action Plan, foreseen for next year.
Stefan Kapferer is sure that decentralisation, as well as digitalisation, will play a key role in the EU’s ambitious target to become the first climate neutral continent in 2050. We see a decentralisation not only on the production side, but also on the demand side: the role of the consumer is changing twice, because it is now a prosumer, producing, with solar capacities or with investments in onshore wind technology, its own energy and becoming an integrated part of the value chain. The consumer is a resource of flexibility, an element which is needed in the renewable energy system; at the same time, consumers should harvest the benefits of the new system.
But the European Union electricity demand in so large that this will not be enough: according to Mr. Kapferer, several offshore wind capacities, cross-border interconnection and a single market for energy will be needed. This extremely complex situation can only be managed through digital technologies. Moreover, there is the need to offer a platform economy to consumers also in the energy world, so that they can interconnect to cooperate. Digitalisation is, therefore, key to handle the system in the future.
According to Dorothée D'Herde, in order to deliver the decade of action and to win the race to zero, there is the need to unleash the power of connected devices which, combined with the power of machine learning and AI, can turn these connected devices into connected intelligence. Vodafone is committed to building a digital society that leaves no one behind and that helps to decarbonise; in fact, they estimate that over a third of the 100 million IoT connections that Vodafone operates, directly enable customers to reduce their emissions.
Ms. D’Herde outlined how Vodafone manages its footprint with the help of digital technologies: an example is the use of dynamic thermal management systems and machine learning algorithms to control the cooling in the technology centres; According to Ms. D’Herde, to enable decarbonisation, and for digitalisation to unlock decarbonisation and a more efficient use of resources across industries, there is the need to, together, unleash the twin “digital and green” transitions.
Annika Hedberg wishes that the recognition of the twin “green and digital” gives a new push for aligning the transitions in both policy and in practice. Better management of data and deployment of digital solutions can provide the means to enable and even accelerate the transition to a more sustainable economy. Digitalisation could also help enhance governance, monitoring implementation and enforcement of relevant rules needed for the green transition. Blockchain is also an interesting new player and can be used to monitor energy prices, certify the origin of energy, enable decentralised trade between users in the grid.
To ensure that the digital revolution itself becomes energy efficient and powered with clean energy is key. For digitalisation to really deliver, it needs to be stirred with the right policy framework and financing instruments, making sure that they contribute to cleaning the digital transition as well as accelerating the purpose-driven digitalisation empowering people to play a role.