21 Jan 2022

No energy transition without collaboration and innovation

No energy transition without collaboration and innovation
Enlit Europe Projects Zone

Areti Ntaradimou, Content Director at Enlit Europe and Editor of Smart Energy International, highlights the different initiatives from the European Commission to make sure the energy transition takes centre stage.

Becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050 is not an easy task. The ambitious European Green Deal is aiming to overcome the challenges that climate change and environmental degradation are bringing into our lives. Shifting towards a low carbon economy is a must but it is going to be hard to accomplish because not even a progressive and relatively rich union of states, like the European one, can perform miracles.

The deployment of renewable sources of energy demands vast and deep changes in the power grid’s infrastructure. These energy sources are indispensable if the European Union wishes to transform the European Green Deal plan into reality in the near future. As Mark van Stiphout, Deputy Head of Unit – Research Innovation Competitiveness and Digitalisation at DG ENER – European Commission (EC), said in an Enlit Europe 365 interview: “To achieve our goal for climate neutrality and greenhouse emission reduction, we will need to introduce more renewables in the energy system.”

DIGITALISATION AT THE HEART OF TRANSFORMATION

In addition, various digital developments (such as big data, the internet of things, smart grids, smart metering, smart homes and buildings, smart charging solutions for electric vehicles, and the more recent artificial intelligence, 5G and high-performance computing) impact multiple aspects of the European energy landscape and demand both money for research and regulations in order to be effective. The EU Commission’s response to the need was fast. The digitalisation of the energy sector has been ongoing for the past few years.

On top of all that, in 2020, the EC raised the climate goals for the member states and proposed a 55% cut in emissions compared to 1990 levels, by 2030. The previous target had been a reduction of 40% by the same year. It seems a bit exaggerated at first glance but as Van Stiphout commented, “… by doing more, now, we can be sure that we achieve the 2050 target”. And he makes a good point.

The way forward is by creating a viable action plan and investing in the correct people and projects that can help us get there. From storage and grid infrastructure to electric vehicles and data management, those much needed solutions to our collective energy issues come from the constant research and innovation, which the various European projects bring to the table. That is why the EC and various energy companies in Europe finance projects that focus on promoting research and development in various topics of the region’s energy sector.

Projects like ‘Clean Energy for EU Islands’ – which helps island communities transit to clean energy sources – or ‘FlexCoop’ – a complete demand-response solution targeting energy cooperatives and their residential consumer members - (a list can be found at the Enlit Europe 365 website), are sponsored by the EC. And they engage citizens, reinforce social norms and support the energy transition. 

As Achille Hannoset, Policy Officer, DG ENER, says: “The purpose of energy communities is to provide value over profit. And this is very important to emphasise, as it is very much a social concept. In addition, they have a democratic participation structure because their work is based on the principle of openness and voluntariness.”

THE BRIDGE INITIATIVE

But, in a plethora of projects, it is easy for one to get lost. Therefore, Enlit World dedicates a whole section to the projects that aim at helping the continent become greener and inevitably lead us to a clean energy transition. And Enlit Europe Live, dedicates an entire hub theatre (an area with free-to attend and hands-on sessions) to them.

At Enlit Europe in 2019, we explored the Bridge Initiative, which is the pride and joy of the European Commission and DG ENER in particular. And rightfully so, as it represents a cooperation between projects focused on the smart grid, energy storage, islands and digitalisation. Its aim is to create a structured view of cross-cutting issues which are encountered in the demonstration projects and may constitute an obstacle to innovation. The well attended sessions of the Bridge Initiative programme were moderated by the Chairs of the respective working groups of DG ENER, four of them in total. One focusing on Data Management, one on Business Models, one on Regulations, and one on Consumer and Citizen Engagement.

CONSUMERS ARE KEY

The sessions that the working groups brought to Enlit Europe 2021 were focused on flexibility market mechanisms, the central role of the consumer, the role of the business models in providing flexibility, and interoperability and data exchange.

The projects participating varied and covered all aspects of the energy spectrum, from storage and big energy platforms to grid services architecture and renewable integration, to name but a few topics. All, however, have the European consumer – and prosumer – in mind. Because as the Commission argues, one of the important pillars of the Green Deal – if not the most important – are the citizens.

That said, one should also take into consideration that there are different states in the European Union, with different levels of acceleration and progress regarding the energy transition. Should then the change happen at a local level first and then at a European one? “No,” says Hannoset, “it should happen simultaneously, both at a local and pan European level, in order to achieve climate neutrality in a cost effective and secure way.” And he is probably right, because after all, it’s not like we have all the time in the world to adapt…

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