While there is no one definitive way to calculate the costs of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources, it is important to look at the return on investment over time and determine how they fit into your company’s overall sustainability goals and infrastructure. I saw a study by Imperial College. They found renewables investments in Germany and France yielded returns of 170% over a five-year period, compared with -20% for fossil fuel investments. In the U.K., also over five years, investment in green energy generated returns of 75% compared to just 9% for fossil fuels. In the U.S., renewables yielded 200% returns versus 97% for fossil fuels.
Which Energy and Utilities Companies will hurt the most if they don’t invest in renewable energy?
Due to the current financial pressures, it is probably not the small ones but it is the mid-sized companies that will probably suffer the most. Companies that plan ahead will save money and reduce risk in the long run, while those that do not take advantage of sustainable technologies are likely to be left behind by bigger competitors or more forward-thinking mid-sized companies, especially when it comes to planning for future demand and regulation of renewable energy.
How can companies innovate for better Infrastructure for sustainability?
When it comes to renewable energy, building new infrastructure is just as important as harnessing new technologies. The key is making sure that you’re building infrastructure that is cost-effective and sustainable. Utilities have a vested interest in being fiscally responsible—if not at least superficially concerned with sustainability—but their first priority is ensuring that they do not overspend on research and development and look after their traditional customer. EDF sensibly have used their Pulse Awards for Start-ups looking to break into the energy sector to circumvent costs, as well as ongoing costs like maintenance and replacement.
The industry is seeing the line between IT and OT (Operational Technology) thinning, hence why we are seeing the growth in digital IT & OT via digital experience technology, smart and connected operation of assets, intelligent enterprise and the next generation energy and utility platforms.
What kind of services do Birlasoft provide in supporting these types of IT/OT initiatives?
Birlasoft specialise in helping energy and utility companies make the right decisions from traditional IT which includes ERP or backend systems to the newest operational technologies. Utility companies are looking to invest in infrastructure whilst monitoring network optimisation and maintaining assets in an increasing digital infrastructure by using real-time data from a variety of machine sources. One of the big issues presently is that there are so many different types of Scada equipment from different eras with different machine outputs that need standardising those streams of data into a common format/visualisation process that the business understands and makes quick decisions from but in a secure manner.
There appears to be so many solutions and approaches to IT/OT on the market, what should I consider?
It is a difficult balance to strike but utility companies are coming closer every day to an optimal IT/OT framework approach to industrial digital design with solutions that can be tried and tested and segments replaced over time for optimum performance. And while some argue that we should be working towards 100% renewable energy, utility companies know how hard it can be to reach full-scale implementation given all their investments in existing power plants and with analogue machines that still reside in the field. Even so, some of those older machines can be digitised by using the latest sensors attached to them.
What is the benefit of being in the UK for renewable energy innovation?
While some energy and utility companies are still wary about investing in renewable energy—due to cost and other factors—others have been implementing cost-effective solutions for well over a decade. And interestingly, according to a study conducted by the University of Oxford in 2020, the majority of companies prioritising renewable energy were clustered in Western Europe. Many of the industry’s biggest players are investing in low-carbon energy and green technologies to replace their ageing fossil fuel power plants (University of Oxford, 2020).
Why invest in research & development within your business when you could buy it in?
When it comes to harnessing energy, there is a bit more at stake than simply business – we are talking about people’s homes and livelihoods. While R&D is expensive, the investment is totally worth it in the long run; after all, doing nothing has its own cost. Plus, with new advances in technology every day, you must stay on top of innovation to compete with those around you. The most telling example is the vast growth in electric vehicle usage which, over time will have a huge impact on the electricity grid. Any business investing in this sector is sure to see an amenable return even though upfront outlay may be a little high. Between the end of 2016 and 2020 there has been an increase of 220% in the number of public chargers, according to ZapMap (2021). There are now over 40,000 individual public charging plugs in over 16,000 locations across the UK alone, with the recent petrol station fuel crisis then this is only going to increase.
Future infrastructure for renewables, can you elaborate?
The entire energy and manufacturing supply chain is set to gain from this steep growth. The production of these cars must dramatically increase to meet the ban of selling new Diesel and Petrol Cars by 2030. Some areas of inspiration for the Energy and Utility industry comes from the latest manufacturing techniques to reduce costs and fully utilise the concept of the electric car. This means going fully digital to reduce or optimise components within the car to make the product more intelligent over older technology rivals. Innovation speeds up this process and it comes from designers having the ability to digitally simulate a car and simulate the perceived driving conditions before building it. The industry term is having a digital twin for simulations before you construct your product so as to add intelligence before and during production through utilising CAD drawings stored in collaborative Product Lifecycle System (PLM) tools and these digital assets can then be reused by Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) systems or by digital robots and AI to build the vehicles in a factory via Smart Manufacturing Techniques.
How can companies make profits from these investments in renewables energy technology?
Companies implementing new infrastructure in anticipation of increased energy demand can not only improve their own bottom line but also help keep energy rates lower for consumers by innovating. Wind and solar are just two ways we can meet that demand, wind turbines have motors just like vehicles so manufacturing excellence as well as usage innovation is key to getting the most out of these machines. Solutions like Birlasoft’s IntelliWind offering helps with this journey.
Going back to electric cars, it is intelligence that will help reduce or optimize vehicle components like batteries or help increase safety plus we will see in the near future autonomous vehicles linked to Smart Cities Tech Infrastructures. This is one of the ways that we can reduce city power needs through intelligent smart cities, traffic congestion solutions and less CO2 emissions areas. By sharing vehicles rather than always buying a new one is equally important as going electric but as you can see there is still plenty of room for intelligent automation in the renewable energy industry!
Can you provide us with some hard facts about the pace of change in the industry for renewables?
Nothing sums up renewable energy growth more than research by the International Energy Agency, their recent market update included a telling statistic which I will read out from their great website
“In 2020, annual renewable capacity additions increased 45% to almost 280 GW – the highest year-on-year increase since 1999. Exceptionally high capacity additions become the “new normal” in 2021 and 2022, with renewables accounting for 90% of new power capacity expansion globally.”
Also as more people adopt renewable sources as a way to generate energy, suppliers will need to build out additional infrastructure such as microgrids or distributed storage systems to support them.
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