Digitisation and innovation are vital steps to decarbonisation

Digitisation

Energy businesses, from legacy through to disruptor, need to show that they are taking action and ensure that customers can choose them from a position of ethics as well as value and customer service. Digitisation, data capture and innovation are vital steps that energy suppliers should be taking now to ensure they are fully equipped on the journey to net zero, says Joseph Tabita, senior VP at Publicis Sapient.

“It’s critical to understand where inefficiencies in the business are emerging; to identify ways to cut carbon waste and to realise the moments where small interventions can help guide customers to better choices,” says the business transformation specialist.

“Understanding is reliant on the right data and the ability to mine that data for insights and to take action. For example, we worked with an energy supplier in Canada –  Oshawa Power – and found that by using a combination of digitisation, smart meters, dynamic tariffs and customer engagement, up to ten per cent of domestic energy consumption could be shifted from peak periods. This is critical as it means that less ‘unclean’ energy is needed to supplement clean supplies at those times.”

This principle applies across the business, Tabita believes. Monitoring the progress and performance of technology such as smart meters, solar panels, EV charge points, heat pumps, etc, begins with digital and data. Updating legacy systems will allow suppliers to engage with consumers easily and encourage energy conservation while increasing customer retention.

Capturing carbon data

Many in the industry are focusing on emerging carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies as a key element in the journey to Net Zero. These critical technologies may well be key to managing emissions on a global scale but are not currently able to act at the scale and deliver at the cost required to make a significant difference. However, this is likely to change over the coming decades as investment pools in these high-yield future technologies.

“For CCUS to be an effective part of an emissions reductions strategy in the years to come, businesses need an understanding of their actual carbon emissions now – not using modelled data which can leave huge gaps in relation to actual emissions,” Tabita says. “As an example, with digitisation and the use of a customised carbon management tool, it is possible to forecast the amount of CO2 that will be captured and in turn the amount of space required to store the carbon deep in the ground once this tech is more widely useful.”

This of course throws up another opportunity. The carbon itself may be leveraged for other uses – these avenues should be explored alongside developing technologies that accelerate the process of carbon mineralisation, where carbon naturally binds to minerals and becomes stone. The answer will be to augment current technologies, ensuring they don’t create more emissions than they expend.

Innovation and tapping into new trends

New trends are constantly emerging, causing the industry to evolve rapidly. Continued business growth within the energy sector depends on identifying emerging trends early, since they will require new technology, flexible innovation, and extra capital if their potential is to be realised. 

Methane release mitigation strategies, for example, will become an increasingly focal point for governments and businesses. Over the initial 20 years following its release into the atmosphere, methane possesses a warming potential of over 80 times that of carbon dioxide. “With 30 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions attributed to methane emissions, addressing this is crucial,” Tabita says. “The majority of these emissions are generated by the agriculture sector, with the most effective and economical approach to mitigate them being through utilising landfill gas, adopting innovative digitisation technologies, transitioning to plant-rich diets, and embracing alternative sources of protein.”

When it comes to decarbonising the worldwide energy system, the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen is picking up steam as a critical solution. Although the expense of transforming renewable energy into hydrogen can be significant, the newly developed tools capable of performing this task work at an exceptionally efficient rate.

“For future generations, converting renewable energy into hydrogen for heating will be imperative for tackling climate change,” Tabita says. “With the UK government rolling out plans to shift from gas to hydrogen heating in homes by 2026, all electrical appliances, such as boilers, must be hydrogen ready.”

Energy suppliers are by nature at the forefront of the fight for the climate, and will be the first actors consumers expect to see change come from. By investing in effective digitalisation to truly measure and mitigate carbon emissions, while ensuring new and emerging technologies remain a key focus area for the business, the industry can shake its image as the responsible party for the climate crisis and embrace its role as leader in the race to Net Zero.

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