The coronavirus pandemic may have put many investment plans on hold, but it has also highlighted the global drive to sustainable living in energy-efficient cities.
COVID-19 and the economic slowdown from the measures to contain it have had many national and local governments think about building back a better future, one that involves intelligent use of energy resources.
Technology and innovation are an integral part of helping cities to make more efficient use of energy, while many parts of the world are moving toward increased environmental awareness and a strategic push to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
During the pandemic, governments are using investment in technology to help curb the spread of the coronavirus and to help the economy after the COVID-19 fallout, ARC Advisory Group said earlier this month. Despite the current headwinds, many cities continue to pursue investment in ‘smart city’ technology, which could be a boon to economic recovery, the advisory said.
Data and data analysis through various algorithms, digital simulations, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can improve energy efficiency by effecting real-world changes to energy use, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report on energy efficiency and digitalization last year.
“Digitalisation enables “smart” buildings, vehicles and industrial facilities to provide new sources of flexible load to the energy system, which can help to reduce renewables curtailment on the supply side and support communities to consume energy produced themselves, “behind the meter”. With more renewables in the system, and more community self-consumption, the end result is a more efficient energy system, thanks to reductions in losses associated with producing and distributing energy,” the IEA said.
The pandemic gives cities the unique opportunity to become more energy-efficient and to reduce their carbon footprint.
And technology plays a crucial role in helping cities make the most of smart utilities, smart mobility, and smart buildings, technology professional Ankit Mishra writes in Forbes.
Utilities around the world have started using more AI and digital twinning to accommodate more renewable energy generation in the grid, the IEA said in its Smart Grids report last month. While overall investment in grids dropped for the third year in a row in 2019, technology has become smarter, and investment in advanced metering infrastructure, utility automation, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure accounted for more than 15 percent of total grid spending. The share of digital grid infrastructure investment grew from 10 percent in 2014 to 17 percent in 2019, the IEA’s estimates showed.
Utilities Iberdrola, Enel, Rte, and e.On in Europe, as well as Exelon, Duke, and Edison International in the United States reported record spending on software last year, according to the IEA.
Some utilities in the U.S. used advanced technology to smoothen grid operations.
For example, American Electric Power (AEP), which delivers electricity to 5 million Americans, had Siemens create an electrical digital twin to simplify grid planning and better manage the growing contribution to the grid of energy from renewable sources.
“All the components that exist within it are represented at a connective, specific device level and allow a number of analytical and optical views of what the system is doing, is able to do and what it is projected to do,” said Mike Carlson, who heads Siemens’ North America Digital Grid business.
San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E), PA Consulting, and predictive analytics solutions provider Toumetis said in April they had co-developed iPredict, “the world’s first artificially intelligent system to prevent power outages by predicting asset failures weeks in advance.”
To curb emissions and improve residents’ health and offer them greener lifestyle choices, many cities are also banning the use of gasoline and diesel cars in city centers and promoting the increased use of electric vehicles (EVs) for commuting. Fast-charging public infrastructure could be a key driver for more electric cars on the roads to the cities.
EVs and power systems can mutually benefit from integration, according to the IEA’s Global EV Outlook 2020 from June 2020. “Over the coming decade, managing electric vehicle charging patterns will be key to encourage charging at periods of low electricity demand or high renewables-based electricity generation,” the IEA said in the report.
EVs could help the power grid’s storage needs as growing shares of renewable energy sources—predominantly solar and wind—are being incorporated into electricity grids, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says.
“Smart charging for electric vehicles (EVs) holds the key to unleash synergies between the clean transport sector and low-carbon electricity. It minimizes the load impact from EVs and unlocks the flexibility to use more solar and wind power,” IRENA said in a report last year.
Another path for energy efficiency in cities is making buildings save more energy and constructing new homes and offices with energy efficiency in mind. Technology helps in energy-saving in buildings, too, from smart homes to predictive analytics solutions to measure the energy use of commercial buildings.
For example, an intelligent energy management solution from Panasonic has powered an innovative, carbon-dioxide-saving energy solution for a smart city project in Berlin, Germany, which provides nearly CO2-free heating to 90 households. The installation in Berlin combines sustainability and digitalization, photovoltaic (PV) panels, and storage batteries integrated into an intelligent and efficient energy management system.
UK-based firm Grid Edge has developed an AI-based solution for building energy management systems (BMSs) for commercial buildings. The solution combines data from the building’s energy management system with other data sources such as weather conditions to predict the building’s energy use 24 hours in advance.
As technology evolves and data volumes increase, real-time data analytics and predictive analytics are set to help cities improve their energy efficiency with smarter digital solutions while reducing their carbon footprint.