digital world sat in hands

The energy industry is well on its way towards a more sustainable future. Over the past decade, emissions from fossil fuels have dropped by nearly 30%. The UK’s energy system has run without coal for two months during lockdown, causing some to question whether the last remaining coal-fired power stations should now be mothballed for good.

While this all sounds like good news, the UK still relies heavily on oil and gas for power generation, especially at peak times. So it’s clear some significant changes still need to happen for the government to ensure our target to become a zero-carbon nation by 2050 is realised.

Accelerating and the shift towards green energy solutions

In our recent research into what people want from future IT innovations, 57% of respondents agreed that technology would be key to ensuring we meet this net zero goal. And given what it’s helped us to achieve in recent years – from curing illnesses, to controlling home appliances with our voices – it’s not surprising that people are starting to think about what technology could do for the planet.

The energy sector is consequently under huge pressure to implement new innovations to help digitise its infrastructure. The government is moving in the right direction and provided the right incentives last month when it offered grants to homeowners to better insulate their homes. But installing thicker windows or a new boiler is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to controlling our carbon footprints at home. Technology solutions that give people control of their personal energy usage at home can make truly impactful environmental change happen.

Current progress has already been very well received – in our study, 80% of consumers praised smart meters, for instance, for helping them to understand, monitor and reduce their own energy consumption. But while house-by-house reductions in energy usage will have a major national impact, this digital metering technology will also be a key enabler for more complex domestic electricity ecosystems.

Where homes were traditionally merely users of electricity, thanks to advancements in home electricity storage and generation (through solar panels, electric heating systems and batteries), more homes will soon be producing electricity and giving it back to the grid and even trading at a local level.

What’s more, if people are going to be charging vehicles from their home energy supply, or even charging their homes from stored energy supply in their car’s batteries, metering, controlling and accounting for energy will become even more vital. The whole economics of home electricity supply could be turned on its head.

Understanding that transport and energy are one and the same

While we use a huge amount of energy at home and in industry, there is another crucial part to the carbon story – transport.

In fact transport and energy are going to be so closely aligned in the near future that we can soon expect to see these markets converge into a single stratosphere, with the utilities, charging infrastructure owners, car manufacturers and smart transport companies all having to integrate and collaborate to meet the changing needs of society.

The true reality of how transport impacts the environment was felt when the world went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, with restrictions on car travel leading to a 7.3% drop in global emissions between April and May, according to a study from the University of East Anglia.

The positive news is that we’re already well on our journey towards greener ways of travelling, at least on the roads. Electric vehicle (EV) development is in full swing, and Expleo research shows that with better infrastructure and government incentives in place – such as the new £6,000 scrappage scheme being considered by Boris Johnson – consumers are likely to make the switch from carbon to EVs. A third of people even said the increased battery life of EVs is something they’re looking forward to over the next 10 years.

With improved battery performance, continued infrastructure and charging facilities, the impact of EVs could be astronomical, not only by cutting carbon emissions, but by transforming the way we manage, store, distribute and pay for electricity as more people swap petrol station fill-ups with home charging, wireless charging or even connected vehicles using “per-mile” payment models.

The energy & mobility sectors must step up

Throughout history attention has fixated on tech that grabs headlines, from 3D TVs to delivery drones. But the truth is that people get more value from tools like smart meters that can reduce their emissions than home robots that tidy their mess.

When it comes to reducing future carbon emissions, greater awareness of personal energy usage, facilitated by appliances like smart meters, and the shift toward electric or battery-powered vehicles are the two areas most likely to positively influence the planet.

It’s vital that the energy and mobility sectors take this into account and focus their efforts on solutions that work reliably and deliver the change people want to see in the world. However, to reap the benefits of these new technologies, they must be developed and adopted in the right way. Quality assurance, trust and security are three key requirements that the technology of the future depends on to succeed.

By Rachel Eyres, Client Director and Market Unit Leader – Industry, Expleo