Gearing up for the green transition with digital transformation

Authors: Kumar Parakala, Sean McCaffrey, Salman Bin Tayyab
AdobeStock_100431291_Future energy wind power.jpeg

At a glance

As we work towards a low-carbon future, digital transformation represents enormous opportunity and promise. When combined with new business models and thinking, digital technologies and solutions are delivering phenomenal outcomes.

While we are all familiar with the adage “don’t let good food go to waste,” the decision of what to do with excess food has become a pressing mandate for businesses. With environmental sustainability in sudden focus, organizations across the Food, Beverage, and Agribusiness (FBA) space are being tasked with reversing the food waste trend by finding alternative solutions to production and supply.

Applying a digital lens to the world’s efforts to decarbonise is leading to accelerated net zero outcomes. GHD’s SHOCKED research tells us that 80 percent of high-growth energy companies identify digitalisation as an effective strategy to support the decarbonisation of energy supplies. Investment in artificial intelligence (AI), smart grids and transition technology are high on the priority list. This article discusses ways GHD Digital is seeing organisations leverage digital tools and technologies to support alternative business strategies and accelerate the energy transition. 

From the digitalisation of energy systems and enhancing stakeholder engagement, to leveraging data, improving efficiencies, and advancing the energy sector, we look at how energy companies can fit into a net zero world and evolve their future business models.

Digital is helping to overcome the limitations of traditional energy models

Digital enablement is disrupting the traditional model of centralised energy generation and distribution. With 75 percent of energy leaders citing the security of energy supply as their number one concern, digitised online networks are increasingly offering more diverse and dynamic methods of energy production, distribution and consumption. Digital energy models are offering a way to shield and protect against geopolitical concerns around supply. It means alternative energy networks are built and operated with an embedded resilience-by-design approach. This offers immediate avenues to redistribute supply if and when needed. Improving the connection between energy markets through strengthening contingency sources and distribution channels helps with uptime and availability. An example are digital microgrids that collaboratively operate and connect with other power grids to provide communities with energy security assurance during possible geopolitical impact.

Energy system digitalisation to meet net zero demands

Organisations are building towards a more sustainable future by incorporating reduced carbon materials and construction methods into their network infrastructure planning. A digitally-connected energy ecosystem also drives efficiency and accuracy in ways previously not explored - such as more precise measurement of electricity injection and withdrawal into grids. This opens the door to brand new commercial models, such as leveraging the potential value of energy produced ‘behind the meter’, where consumers become ‘prosumers’ by creating energy in their homes and injecting it into the grid. 

Reconfiguring traditional energy networks to be adaptive could result in charging your electric vehicle with less drain on supply, because it will be powered through solar grids on your house. Or perhaps, your electric vehicle could inject energy back into the microgrid to improve supply for others when not in use. This means having a far more efficient and accurate use of the available energy resources in the network too. Watch this space to see how ‘prosuming’ fundamentally disrupts energy distribution and uncovers new ways to meet demand response.

Digital and data to optimise and inform

There is such a mass of data being collected across every enterprise. The ability to do meaningful things and extract value for strategic planning, project development and return on investment is imperative. Attaining the data is the challenge. It’s like a library. If you cannot find the book in the proper file or place, it’s impossible to read and learn from. Data management teams are working with organisations to place data where it’s needed to draw from easily to inform business decisions in a more measurable and sustainable manner.

For example, energy producers are gaining improved ability to drive triple bottom line improvements through data analytics and AI. These are enhancing capabilities to identify more complex patterns in the behaviours of energy usage and operational performance. Operations, supply and products can be adjusted accordingly – to the point where even Internet of Things connected white goods inside your home will adapt their operating models to best take advantage of electricity peak and off-peak rates.

Improving engagement with stakeholders and communities

The energy transition demands new thinking, approaches, and importantly, infrastructure. Digital tools are becoming an increasingly critical way of educating stakeholders about new energy projects to build community acceptance. We are seeing more energy clients using digital engineering and visualisation to develop virtual reality platforms, fly throughs and other graphic assets for stakeholder engagement. These types of tools are also important during testing and development. It means teams can more efficiently review designs from a safety standpoint, as well as for maintenance, operations and training circumstances. Simulation models will also ensure the industry is making solid choices about the impact of energy alternatives.

GHD Digital’s takeaways for leaders:

Start with a well-defined digital transformation roadmap: Modern energy utilities cannot achieve their energy transition goals without digital transformation. While there are a number of contributing external factors to the success of the energy transition, digital solutions and tools are here and now, ready to be leveraged. Always begin with deliberate board and c-suite led commitments on how to define and drive energy transition objectives to other connected outcomes to yield the most success.

The transition is a journey not a destination: The world’s move to greener energy sources is a transformational societal change. An energy shift of this magnitude has never been attempted before. It’s a moving target. Throughout the journey, energy needs will continue to evolve, government policies will shift, and new technology options will emerge. Given the complexity of transition efforts, leaders need to focus on the incremental, measurable steps to ensure each phase positively positions the business. Retaining flexibility across the roadmap, allows adaptation to learnings and experience, as well as changing consumer influences.

Explore global best practices: Sharing knowledge and creating connections between industry players, business, government and communities from different geographies can open up the conversation to new possibilities and ideas.

Make the first move: There is the chicken and the egg conundrum with the energy transition. There is a demand and need for renewable energy, yet quite often the infrastructure players might be waiting for producers or distributors to step-up. Making the first move provides the advantage in accessing investment funding sources, as well as gaining access to a finite resource and skills pool of talent in local markets.

For the first time since energy networks have been developed, we can clearly see how the role of digital will change and enhance the sector. Consumers, investors, regulators and communities are seeing improved connectivity, more distributed energy production models and technologies supporting hydrogen, solar and wind. Learn how GHD Digital can help you advance your energy transition strategy and goals.