Energy sharing must become part of a resilient energy structure that keeps us safe and connected to both power and each other. This will become increasingly important as extreme weather continues to put pressure on the power grid, making energy disruption more common. We will also face challenges as the world progresses towards renewable energy. McKinsey predicts that in Europe the demand for electricity will rise by around 3 percent annually until 2030 – putting new pressure on existing systems.
Over time, we will no longer simply consume energy but create and share it too. To make this possible, we need a system that welcomes new actors and flexibility in the power generation and distribution chain, which in turn unlocks fresh opportunities. By decentralizing the power grid and connecting it with a single, intelligent communications network, we can transform the existing power setup to support a digital transformation.
It’s time for a two-way value chain in the power grid relationship, where power is generated, stored and shared between multiple locations.
What is energy sharing and why is it valuable?
Currently, local power generation feeds into the public grid, which is our primary energy source.
However, a decentralized model allows areas to use locally generated or stored energy when needed, including during outages and in times of severe stress to the grid.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and wireless networks can predict and foresee issues and can therefore make decisions like connecting storage systems for flexible energy sharing.
Less reliance on the central grid will mean better crisis response and daily adaptability via an intelligent grid and a secure communication network.
How can energy sharing be introduced?
Working together is crucial for sharing energy. Governments and policymakers should simplify the process of removing barriers to transform the grid. They should also allow different stakeholders to enter the energy market.
Consider the electric vehicle industry: in some places, the pace of charging infrastructure growth is due to a lack of incentives. These incentives could help with the high costs of electric transmission and distribution rates.
Different industries need to collaborate. The electrical utilities sector can use Information Communication Technology (ICT) to both improve business operations and make the grid more resilient.
These efforts match United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 9. This goal aims to create a strong infrastructure, encourage inclusive industry growth and promote innovation.
In 2021, 4 percent of the world’s population experienced a major power outage according to the HIS Markit Global Power and Renewables Service , with some of the biggest energy disruptions occurring in China and the United States. Strategies like the public safety power shutoffs in California, which were put in place to prevent energy infrastructure from sparking wildfires in 2019, will be consistent around the globe.
Energy crisis management will take on a new urgency, from disruption in hydropower supply, due to colder weather interfering with power infrastructure. The conventional route of “hardening” the power grid by weatherproofing centralized systems could take a decade to deploy and cost billions of dollars while continuing to be rigid and underprepared.
In 2021, 4 percent of the world’s population experienced a major power outage.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. Imagine this scenario: you’re at home and receive a message that a central power outage is imminent in your town. You check your home’s digital energy interface and can see how much power is stored locally, through both your own generation and in the neighborhood. You can see how many hours’ worth of power are left and how to optimize its use, while the system prioritizes emergency and critical services in the area, feeding some of your supply to hospitals or fire and rescue services. Soon, energy systems will use secure wireless networks to share critical data in real time.
In this scenario, where else could energy be stored locally, aside from your home? In many countries, the ICT industry is required to place power backups at telecom sites so that connectivity services, especially those for emergency services, can be used during power outages. ICT sites with smart remote connections can simply run on battery, while the TSO receives support in stabilizing the frequency or voltage level in the grid.
“An intelligent energy system management requires an intelligent mobile network. AI will manage energy distribution to help foresee issues and mitigate blackouts, working rapidly and making decisions that keep society safe and functioning.”
Executive Vice President and Head of Business Area Networks, Ericsson
Deeper collaboration between the ICT and energy industries will reinforce them both, while ensuring no one is left vulnerable in emergency situations, or without power or connectivity.
There’s an opportunity for broader interconnections with energy-related assets that can be leveraged to strengthen resilient and reliable energy for consumers. Very soon, a homeowner could choose to use some of their electric vehicle’s energy for another function at their home, and with this new diversification, regulators will need to grant multiple stakeholders the ability to gain new income streams from electricity, including consumers.
The push to harvest energy differently impacts power generation, transmission and distribution. The changes to the grid are rooted in:
- decarbonization of power generation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, meaning more electricity will be generated and stored in the current system
- decentralization, where the energy market will operate from multiple points as well as power generation and distribution being a two-way transfer
- digitalization, which will be the foundation for this new multipoint setup, an intelligent grid solution driven by the need for accurate and extensive data points
The focus to become fossil-free is encouraging the world to turn to solar photovoltaic and wind-based solutions. McKinsey predicts that by 2030, these two methods are expected to provide 60 percent of Europe’s energy capacity. However, they generate electricity intermittently with natural changes and variations, which makes their management more complex.
As these intermittent sources are introduced into the grid, the Transmission System Operator (TSO) will need to ensure that the electricity frequency remains stable.
Given this new challenge, there is a need for smart communication services in the energy infrastructure to help mitigate blackouts and brownouts. For example, if long-duration battery solutions are deployed, they can recharge or disconnect from generation sources when there is low demand and go off-grid to run on batteries during peak times – perhaps even to act as temporary generation sources to the grid – and this can be made possible by a secure mobile network.
Across many countries within the EU, it is already the norm for homeowners to generate solar power with the incentive of offsetting energy bills by selling the energy back to utility companies and this has been the case for years, allowing consumers to become “prosumers”. However, this is not common across the globe, and it does not tap into the benefits of decentralization, such as local storage, energy sharing and autonomy.
As individual power generation becomes globally mainstream, with personal wind as well as solar generation set to become part of every building, the challenge for the TSO to ensure a stable electricity frequency will grow, while the capacity of distributed energy generators, types of renewable energy sources and cadence of extreme weather all come into play.
How do you plan for an unpredictable climate?
The upcoming advancements in electricity generation will demand a sole, intelligent mobile platform that will act as a measuring setup to oversee both power production capacity and consumption levels. Imagine a wireless, always-on sensor network that adjusts to real-time demand and identifies outages before the impact grows. An in-built intelligent grid solution that uses Digital Twins, a virtual version of our world, to simulate and plan for the unplannable. With a single mobile platform, orchestration can be made seamless, instant and intelligent, where we can leverage AI to control when and how energy is utilized and automate energy sharing. An intelligent mobile network is crucial in digitalizing and automating a smart grid.
This infrastructure will be built with security at its core, ensuring the smart grid resists external risks and threats. Using private Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and 5G, providers will have access to secure private cellular wireless networks and edge computing that keeps data on-site, secure and protected. In France, Électricité de France (EDF) has partnered with Ericsson to introduce enhanced connectivity on sites, allowing EDF employees and their partners to have remote access to resources via secure terminals.
Operational costs and complexities can be significantly reduced by working with ICT providers, as energy operators can utilize a single secure mobile platform that can self-monitor, self-diagnose and self-heal through automation and remote monitoring. By consolidating multiple existing networks and using cellular wireless, as opposed to fixed networks, there are multiple financial benefits to be captured.
Every country is at a different stage of renewable energy generation. Given the complexity and the size of the grid, expanding transmission capacity and removing bottlenecks take a very long time with planning horizons of 15 years and up to 40 years on investments.
Looking at Poland, where one-third of power stations were built before 1982, this aging system resulted in around 60-80 percent of renewable energy source connections being rejected due to insufficient grid capacity, according to Anna Łukaszewska-Trzeciakowska, Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Climate and Environment. While energy infrastructure continues to be modernized, change is on the horizon: Polska Grupa Energetyczna, Poland’s largest power-producing company, have partnered with Ericsson to deliver critical mobile network solutions which facilitate secure remote reading of over 5 million electricity meters, dispatcher communication services, as well as automatic network control mechanisms.
As energy suppliers continue to modernize and work to get the most out of their existing assets, they can use private cellular LTE/5G networks and a great number of Internet of Things sensors to monitor the real-time condition of assets. This enables quick decisions on whether to replace or maintain parts of the system. A digital infrastructure would also support new business models that allow for efficient large-scale aggregation of power from many small assets. Unifying multiple, outdated communications networks and replacing them with a single, fast and expansive mobile network will keep this ever-fragmenting energy landscape together.
According to Climate Central , in the United States between 2011 and 2021, the average annual number of weather-related power outages increased by roughly 78 percent when compared between 2000 and 2010. Energy disruption isn’t only unsafe, but costly. Through digitalizing the power grid, providers can optimize usage and avoid waste. Their grids will be more robust during crises and curb the costs that outages incur, such as loss of productivity. Working with energy orchestration, Communications Service Providers (CSPs), ICT and utilities partners can bring energy costs down while gaining new revenue from energy ancillary services. Working in unison to build a decentralized, smart grid system, is a way to be more cost-effective in the long term.
Energy is set to become a new kind of commodity. According to Ericsson research , three out of four urban early adopters believe selling energy from AI-managed solar panels and micro wind turbines at home will be commonplace in the 2030s. Energy will likely be used as currency – 64 percent of urban early adopters predict consumers will be able to pay for goods and services in kWh using mobile apps. The need for a single, secure and robust communications network holding this structure together is vital.
Energy sharing in solidarity, supported by wireless connectivity, can keep societies functioning in a turbulent future. Think of these scenarios to imagine how the new system could help:
- save lives: limitless communication will allow drone ambulances to arrive with vital medical care, ready and re-charged for their next destination
- keep water flowing: water pumps rely on electricity; a robust power network secures safe drinking water and drainage
- access funds: money will continue to be digitally accessible, allowing people to buy food and supplies
- call for help or check on friends and family: the unity between ICT and energy systems promises connectivity after a disaster when it’s needed most
Connectivity is the key to powering a resilient energy sharing infrastructure, a reliable, smart and secure system that can be agile in the face of a turbulent future. With the right change in policy and investment in how and where we store energy and build this network, there is limitless potential. Ericsson is partnered with governments and industries across the globe, managing critical infrastructure and innovating in the utilities field.
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With additional thanks to:
Helene Hallberg, Erik Sanders, Lars Humla