The energy transition needs a change of mindset

The technologies needed to transform our power systems are already available. Now we need to change our mindset

The 3rd Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) took place in Copenhagen on October, 21-22, 2013, with the overall focus on improving resource efficiencies in the value chain, including the areas of energy, water, food and greening the value chain.

The forum was hosted by the Danish government in partnership with the governments of China, Kenya, Mexico, Qatar and South Korea. Its mission was to explore and demonstrate how better collaboration among leading businesses, investors, organizations and key public institutions can effectively realize the potential for long-term global, inclusive green growth. After my participation at the World Energy Congress in South Korea 2013, I had again the pleasure and oportunity to be a panelist in the discussion “Power System Transformation – New Market Paradigms” at the 3GF 2013 in the energy track.

The session brought together key power system stakeholders – investors, regulators, project developers, and policy makers – to critically examine issues in power market design and identify key principles for next generation market design.

Among the challenges and needs discussed by the panel were power volatility and decentralization; pollution caused by fossil fuels, integration of wind power, potential of renewables (solar, wind and hydro), and the need for investment in cleaner solutions.

During the discussion, it became clear that the panelists shared the same concerns and agreed that we are facing a very complex challenge. In my opinion, it is not sufficient to focus on specific parts of the power system, such as generation, consumption or the grid. Rather, we need to take account of the entire system including the interaction of its sub-systems and all of its related components. The fact is that many building blocks required to construct an intelligent energy system of the future are already available. Technology is not the bottleneck. The real challenge is to design the market with the proper incentives so that market participants make the right investments.

We all know that a broad collaboration among all players is a must and that pilot projects are needed to develop the understanding of new technologies. What we have not yet realized is that the industries involved in the energy transformation need to change their current working principles. Instead of the traditional approach of in-depth analyses followed by detailed planning to remedy weaknesses, the transition needs an environment of efficient learning and fast corrective actions.

Meeting the challenges involved in the energy transition requires the ability to adapt as opposed to developing a detailed understanding of every issue and finding the ultimate solution!

This means that much more than in the past, systems and infrastructure must be designed in a way that will allow further adaptations without the need to replace the assets already deployed. The grids in particular need to become an evolving platform and these considerations must be taken into account during the design phase and in all the standards used in these systems.

It also means that people should change their mindset when it comes to future-proof solutions. For instance, the operation of a power system, in particular active power balancing, has almost always been the preserve of the (transmission) system operators. This seemed to be nearly a natural law. But in a world with millions of distributed generation units connected to the distribution networks this concepts needs to be reconsidered.

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About the author

Jochen Kreusel

I lead the Industry Segment Initiative "Smart Grids" in ABB and I am a member of the Steering Committee of the European Technology Platform for Electricity Networks of the Future – short ETP Smart Grids. From 2008 to 2013, I was Chairman of the Power Engineering Society of VDE. Furthermore, I am an honorary professor at the RWTH Aachen and one of the four Vice presidents of T&D Europe, the European Association of the Electricity Transmission and Distribution Equipment and Services Industry, in charge of Energy Policy and chair of T&D Europe’s Energy Policy Working Group.
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