The world is at the precipice of a momentous energy transition. As the global population continues to surge, and the implications of climate change grow more pressing, securing a sustainable and resilient energy future has become paramount.
This week the International Energy Agency (IEA) released the ‘Electricity Grids and Secure Energy Transitions’ report. It outlines a comprehensive analysis of the state of the global electricity grids and the emerging risk of the grid becoming a bottleneck to clean energy transitions and energy security.
Themes from the report
Increasing pressures of global demand
Global electricity consumption is on track to double by 2050, a significant surge primarily attributed to the electrification of key sectors such as transportation and heating. To satisfy demand, the transition to electricity is pivotal in the global effort to minimise greenhouse gas emissions.
To achieve the energy and climate goals set by countries, the world must undertake a 20% acceleration in electricity consumption growth over the next decade. Building the necessary infrastructure to support global electrification is crucial.
“Reaching national goals also means adding or refurbishing a total of over 80 million kilometres of grids by 2040, the equivalent of the entire existing global grid.”
“Grids risk becoming the weak link of clean energy transitions”
The IEA report raises concerns that we are not keeping pace with the new global energy economy that is emerging. The grid risks becoming the bottleneck for efforts to accelerate clean energy transitions and ensure electricity security.
Despite the remarkable surge in investments in renewable energy sources, which have nearly doubled since 2010, global investment in grid infrastructure has seen little to no significant change. This stagnant grid investment trend is causing considerable concerns, as it prevents renewable energy sources from connecting to the grid.
An alarming look into the future
In the report, the IEA reports on ‘the Grid Delay Case’ which highlights the consequences of limited investment, modernisation, digitalisation, and operational improvements in comparison to the more climate-focused scenarios.
“Delays in grid investment and reform would substantially increase global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, slowing energy transitions and putting the 1.5 °C goal out of reach.”
Calling for action today not tomorrow
To establish new grid infrastructure, it can take anywhere from five to fifteen years to plan, permit and complete. In comparison, new renewables projects take one to five years. The IEA highlights how Governments can support the expansion of supply chains through better standardising procurement and technical installations. Policymakers can speed up progress on grids by enhancing planning, ensuring regulatory risk assessments allow for anticipatory investments and streamlining administrative processes.
"Enabling this growth in electricity consumption while simultaneously decarbonising the sector is a formidable challenge."
So who’s responsible for making a change?
In the collective effort to combat the global warming crisis, every stakeholder in the energy sector and the global economy needs to acknowledge their shared responsibility to make a positive impact. Governments must play a pivotal role in streamlining regulation to support the transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. Energy companies must embark on a journey of modernising legacy processes which slow down planning and roll out internally. Meanwhile, companies like Sensat must focus on technology and innovation development that can help across the asset lifecycle.
The role of innovation in grid modernisation
In the current landscape of rapid technological advancement, innovation remains at the forefront of efforts to usher in secure and sustainable energy transitions to the grid. This drive encompasses a wide array of cutting-edge technologies and approaches. At Sensat here are our top innovations which we believe will support the Grid’s expansion:
AI and machine learning
AI and machine learning are set to be transformative in the energy sector. Its use cases range from better forecasting energy demands to anticipating grid failure. By making sense of the grid’s complex and dynamic data, AI and machine learning can help minimise energy wastage, reduce operational costs, and boost grid reliability, all of which are essential for secure energy transitions.
Information visualisation tools have become indispensable in the energy industry. They provide an intuitive way to bring together data sets which have traditionally been held across different systems and formats. Visualisation tools are already supporting major energy providers in the early stages of planning and well into the construction of assets. Check out how National Grid is using Sensat to enhance its options selection process.
The development of new materials is fundamental to energy innovation. From high-efficiency solar panels and advanced battery technologies to superconducting materials that reduce energy losses in transmission, these materials are key to achieving sustainable energy solutions. They enable greater energy capture, storage, and transmission, contributing to the expansion of renewable energy and grid efficiency.
Among these innovations, smart grids stand out as a linchpin in the future of energy transition. These grids incorporate AI, advanced visualisation, and materials science to create dynamic, responsive, and interconnected electricity distribution systems. Smart grids facilitate the integration of renewable energy sources, enable real-time monitoring and control, and support grid modernisation. They play a pivotal role in optimising energy generation and consumption, reducing carbon emissions, and enhancing overall grid resilience.
The urgency of this transformation is undeniable, but it remains within our reach if we act decisively. The impacts of global warming are not some distant, abstract concern; they are already affecting us today. The strain of a changing climate, extreme weather events, and ecological disruptions are real and will continue to intensify unless we collectively commit to immediate action. Our responsibility is not only to future generations but to the well-being of our own as we strive to create a sustainable and habitable world for all.