Mastering Change

Changing the energy sector brings change to many people and organizations

So far, we described the paradigm change in terms of the technical and commercial functions of the grid. There are many additional expected changes and constraints on how the change will take place:

Changes that are to be expected

  • As the way we produce, transport, use and manage electricity changes, so do the roles of individuals and organizations. Some thrive on opportunities, others become obsolete. Individuals may need to learn new skills or change jobs, organizations transform by growing, shrinking, splitting or merging. Those who win are likely to support, those who lose out to oppose or slow down change.
  • While electricity consumption is shrinking in developed countries due to higher energy efficiency, additional consumption arises from economic growth of less developed ones. More electricity is also needed to convert building and traffic sectors from fossils to renewables in industrialized and developing countries. These new players have different agendas, interests and approaches than current energy sector players.
  • As flexibility becomes more important in the electric grid, those who provide technology and applications for it play a stronger role: Building industry, technology suppliers and facility managers with heating and cooling, car industry and battery manufacturers for storage and electro-mobility, and the water sector with pumping, processing and hydraulic storage are only a few examples.
  • Climate change happens now and will have strong impacts: on energy production (changing wind patterns) and consumption (more cooling due to rising temperatures), but also on infrastructure more often affected by hurricanes (transmission lines) and floods. This calls for even more flexible and resilient solutions.

Constraints that are to be considered

  • Energy is an infrastructure with an operational life of up to 50 years. Thus it reacts to change very slowly, as it takes up to 50 years until new fully replaces existing equipment. This is particularly challenging when comparing it with ICT with a high innovation rate and thus short operational life. How to merge a very fast with a very slow technology into a new system?
  • Even though renewable energy may be cheaper than fossil, upfront investment is relatively high (and variable cost relatively low). This means any replacement of fossil by renewable production is associated with a strong financing need and needs reliable performance and price predictions.
  • As consumers play a more important role, so will their needs and behaviors. Will they adapt to facilitate change, ignore it, or even insist on more comfort that puts more strain on the system? A prudent approach is to focus on flexibility that can be generated automatically, with minimum interference and loss of comfort for the individual concerned.