How the Energy IoT Aids the Energy Transition
The energy internet of things could help resolve the issues of climate change and energy transition.
As we move into an uncertain future regarding climate and energy, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of vision and leadership. I’ll argue herein that the energy internet of things is as good a vision as any to help us resolve the problems of climate change and energy transition.
Image used courtesy of Pixabay
The Energy Internet of Things
Put simply, we need an organizing construct, a new architecture that works better than the one-way monopoly grid topology and operating model developed over 100 years ago. Of course, we can always just keep hammering away at complex solutions as we try to make all our new ideas and challenges fit inside an aging paradigm, like banging on that proverbial square peg to make it fit into a round hole. Or we can stop to reconsider where it is we want to be in this still relatively new century and craft an effective transition to get there as expeditiously as possible.
Considering how the internet evolved to disrupt just about everything over the past 30 years, it’s hard to imagine a more apt model from so many perspectives, whether innovation, new business models, value creation, or redundancy and risk mitigation. The internet is the phenomenon it is because it embraces complexity by enabling dynamic innovation, allowing itself to adapt, reinvent, and transform as it moves forward (in stark contrast to the many rigid aspects of our monopoly grid that hold progress back).
I’ve been stuck on this analogy and thought exercise for a long time. In fact, I chose to map out my resume/CV on my website under the title “An Energy Internet of Things Journey.” Back in the 1990s, when I was working for an innovative electric utility, I was transferred to the new telecom division, where I enjoyed a great five-year stint experimenting at the juncture of electricity, telecom, and internet. Later I found myself at my hometown utility, Austin Energy, developing and running what I labeled the GENie (Geodesic Energy Network: information + electricity) Project. That project would lead to what some call North America’s first smart grid. My inspiration throughout has been the internet as a model for our future electricity architecture and system.
Image used courtesy of Pixabay
A History of eIoT Milestones
2001, The Energy Web (Wired Magazine). Here’s the view from 22 years ago. “The best minds in electricity R&D have a plan: Every node in the power network of the future will be awake, responsive, adaptive, price-smart, eco-sensitive, real-time, flexible, humming–and interconnected with everything else.”
2004, Building the Energy Internet (The Economist). This article from nearly two decades ago focused on resilience. “More and bigger blackouts lie ahead unless today's dumb electricity grid can be transformed into a smart, responsive, and self-healing digital network—in short, an energy internet.”
2010, Bob Metcalfe on the EnerNet (Singularity U).
The inventor of ethernet and internet pioneer gives an excellent talk on what he describes as the EnerNet, its origins, and connections to the internet. Video used courtesy of YouTube
2011, The Advanced Smart Grid: Edge Power Driving Sustainability (John Cooper & Andres Carvallo). The GENie Project (2004-5), Pecan Street Project (2009), and vision for an energy internet explained.
2011, Advanced Smart Grid Will be Energy Internet (PowerGrid International). The importance of starting with a vision and network topology rather than with individual applications and solutions.
2016, The Innovation Platform Enables the Internet of Things (Future of Utilities – Utilities of the Future, Chapter 5). The requirement to radically transform our society and economy in time to stop climate change can only be addressed at scale with a viral solution like the internet and the platforms and apps it enabled.
2017, A history of the future – the world in 2025 (European Central Bank). Futurist Jeremy Rifkin outlines a compelling vision for the future.
2023, Energy Internet of Things Architecture: Theory to Practice (Stuart McCafferty). Visionary Stuart McCafferty outlines the new architecture and thinking needed to realize the vision of an Energy Internet of Things, including practical steps on what will it take to build it.
Critical Path to the eIoT
Here are the stops along the critical path to reaching the eIoT.
Energy storage expansion. If there is a single component to make the eIoT feasible, it has to be energy storage in all sizes and types. Whether it’s batteries, EVs engaged as resources (i.e., V2G), pumped hydro, or thermal, ubiquitous, and affordable energy storage will transform conventional grid capability to manage increasing complexity in a more dynamic environment.
Widespread distributed energy resource (DER) deployment. The pace of deployment must continue, even accelerate, as prices continue to fall and the value proposition becomes better understood. For markets to grow, critical mass and greater maturity are needed.
Transmission and distribution upgrades. Dramatic expansion of utility-scale renewables and DER will require grid modernization and expansion of infrastructure capacity, including digital capabilities like real-time monitoring and fine control of voltage, amperage, reactive power, etc.
Power conversion capabilities. As the diversity of power explodes across the landscape, power conversion will ensure flexible grid integration.
Standardization. The internet was made possible by technical standards like TCPIP, URL, and HTML. Similarly, governments and industries will need to collaborate on the development of standards and regulations to ensure rapid scaling and smooth operations.
What Stands in the Way?
But there are obstacles along the way.
Global dissonance. Among key stakeholders worldwide, a lack of collaboration, focus, or even simple disagreement on standards will stall the critical momentum that needs to be generated. The internet is a model for rapid growth, so to accelerate the energy transition and scale as fast as possible, we need to work together to develop global standards. Cross-border sharing of resources and best practices will accelerate the development of a new global resource to break down barriers and drive constant innovation.
Voluntary transformation. Around the world, utility incumbents control the pace of change. Conservative managers who prefer the safe harbor of the status quo and slow roll any deviance from conventional approaches remain a grave threat to rapid transformation. The eIoT has so much potential that governments must shift from voluntary guidance on digitalization to mandatory adoption of such best practices as data modeling and digital twinning. Regulators must detail specific timelines to implement digital transformation. We cannot let resistance to change stall a future that will provide so many benefits for so many people.
Time is running out to change core assumptions and make serious commitments to change. The status quo has proven impotent to growing disruptions, even as top-down change efforts at the UN continue to flail. If the eIoT truly is the vision with the best potential, and I argue that it is, then it’s past time to implement the steps needed to make this happen. With a functional eIoT, we will finally get to watch necessary changes unfold rapidly, driven by compounding virtuous cycles and value-based market adoption, just as we’ve witnessed with the internet over the past three decades.