December 8, 2015
Yesterday, executives of the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership’s (GSEP) companies convened for a high-level panel discussion on the electricity industry’s role in achieving climate and energy goals. The event was part of the GSEP’s initiatives related to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) currently being held in Paris. The discussion centered on the themes of innovation, decarbonizing the energy mix, and the challenges ahead in rethinking power systems, including end use of electricity. These themes had previously been published in a recent report by the GSEP entitled “Powering Innovation for a Sustainable Future”.
The panelists agreed that we are entering a new era in our relationship with energy worldwide, brought about by the massive introduction of renewables and digitalization. “We’ve always been following changes,” said Mr. Peter Terium, CEO of RWE, Germany, “The companies in our sector are used to adapting to changes and I think renewables are just another further step.”
An effective energy transition must address the systemic changes that are taking place within and beyond the electricity sector itself. “We are leading a revolution today,” said Ms. Claude Nahon, Sustainable Development Senior Vice-President of Électricité de France, “The use of energy, and not only of electricity, will be in the hands of customers. We need to put in place a system that is more bottom –up, reinventing the relationship between the customer and us.” Changes within the electricity sector need to go hand in hand with changes in other sectors as well. “If we talk about decarbonisation we need to look also at transport, or heating,“ said Mr. Terium, “they can only be decarbonised if they are further electrified. We need much more generation of electricity than we ever thought before which means the system will become much more complex, and more volatile.”
Panelists also shared their visions on how new technologies, research, and innovative solutions can help the transition to a lower-carbon world. Mr. Éric Martel, CEO of Hydro-Québec, a company whose energy mix is already over 99% renewable, emphasized the need to develop other new technologies, such as batteries for bulk energy storage and electric vehicles, through further research and innovation: “Within Québec we’re involved in the electrification of transportation. Forty percent of our emissions in Québec comes from cars, so we’re in a situation where the more electrification of transportation will help us reduce our carbon footprint.”
In a country like the US where a rapid transformation of energy generation is presently emerging with the increase of economically viable natural gas and renewables in the energy mix, “The real challenge has to do with infrastructure,” said Dr. Lawrence Jones, VP International Programs of the Edison Electric Institute, “The issue is having the right infrastructure to get natural gas into the northeastern part of the US, for example. And we see the same issue in infrastructure when it comes to renewables.” Mr. Agustin Delgado, Chief Innovation Officer of Iberdrola, Spain, added that, “Networks will be the key of all the new power systems in the future. The networks in the future are going to be even smarter than today and will allow all this transfer of energy and data among all the consumers and producers.”
Looking forward, companies must form their own long-term strategies to ensure a sustainable transition to a decarbonized energy mix. “We are beginning to have plenty of opportunities to innovate and change in all different technologies,” said Mr. Andrea Valcalda, Head of Sustainability at Enel, Italy, “Each company according to its specific situation and geographies and strategy has the opportunity to focus on strategy and focus on a specific path.”