This article is part of our special report Electricity networks: Connecting the dots.
The clean energy transition requires first and foremost bridging energy and digital economy. The single energy market and the digital single market must go hand-in-hand, argues Dominique Ristori.
Dominique Ristori is director general at the European Commission’s department for energy.
Energy is central to our modern society and is essential for all parts of our economy. Today, the energy sector is undergoing rapid changes underpinned by the decarbonisation of our economy, greater decentralisation and increased digitalisation in the way our energy system works.
With two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions coming from energy production and consumption, the energy sector has a key role to play in decarbonising our economy.
In the wake of its commitments under the Paris Agreement, Europe is leading the global shift to a modern low-carbon and clean energy world. Europe is on track to reach its 2020 target of 20% of renewable energy in final energy consumption and it has successfully decoupled its greenhouse gas emissions from its economic growth. Between 1990 and 2016, GDP grew by 53% while greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 23% over the same period.
By 2030, at least 27% of the energy we consume in Europe will come from renewables and over half of the electricity will be generated by renewable energies.
With the growing share of renewable energy, the energy system is becoming more decentralised. Today, 90% of new installed capacity of renewable energy are connected at distribution level in the electricity sector. Furthermore, electricity will be increasingly used in sectors such as transport and heating and cooling.
This calls for changes in the way we build and operate our electricity networks as well as for innovative solution to make the electricity market fit for renewable and distributed energy. We need the electricity system to become more digitalised to keep our electricity supply competitive and affordable, and maintain our high standards of security of supply.
If we want a secure, sustainable and competitive energy system, that is future-proofed and able to support the energy transition, we need to harness the potential of intelligent components and ICT.
Digital technologies already play an important role in the energy sector. This holds particularly true for smart grids and smart metering systems, smart home appliances, smart charging solutions for electric vehicles and smart cities. They can foster a better use of energy from renewable sources help the consumer to participate actively in the energy market and use energy more efficiently.
In all these areas, digital technologies create various opportunities and the European industry is eager to embrace these opportunities and be at the forefront of this digital revolution. The EU should seek to foster these efforts and ensure that the digitalisation of the energy sector becomes a reality accessible to everyone in society.
Acknowledging the need to further develop synergies between the ICT and energy sectors, the Commission has placed the digital transformation of the energy sector high on its agenda. This is in particular the direction foreseen in the Clean Energy for All Europeans Package adopted by the Commission last year and which is being negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, with the support of the Commission.
This package puts forward a stable and performant regulatory framework to adapt our energy system to the challenges ahead and support the clean energy transition. It puts consumers at the centre of the energy system and ensures that they can benefit from innovative energy services such as smart grids, smart meters and smart homes. This will enable a host of new services and better standard of service for consumers. Besides, this package will encourage the use of ICT and smart technologies to ensure buildings operate more efficiently while supporting the development of smart charging solutions for electric vehicles.
The proposed EU regulatory framework will also make it easier for new business ideas and new players to bring innovation to the table, fostering synergies between ICT and energy industries. The clean energy transition represents a real economic opportunity as it will bring new investments, jobs and growth in Europe and will empower consumers to participate actively in the market and benefit from new technologies.
In addition to the necessary regulatory framework to support innovation, the Commission has also been putting on the table a number of initiative geared towards exploiting synergies between the energy and ICT sectors in order to help overcome barriers in the take-up of smart energy solutions.
The EU strategy on Digitising European Industry aims at helping companies large and small, researchers and public authorities, by linking up national and regional initiatives and boosting investment through strategic partnerships and networks. Overall, the strategy should mobilise up to €50 billion of public and private investments in support of the digitisation of industry in the coming 5 years.
Besides, the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET) targets the energy and digital industries in order to bring them together to enable European companies to deliver energy-intelligent products and services across Europe. The SET plan is complemented by the Smart Grids Task Force, a group of experts that advises the European Commission on how to shape the EU smart grid policy and on smart grid deployment.
Further research and innovation into energy-related digital technologies is also financially supported via the Horizon 2020 programme: for 2018 and 2019, some €80 million of EU funding will be invested in projects that focus on combining ICT and energy technology development. Finally, both the Connecting Europe Facility and the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the so-called “Juncker investment plan”, support smart and sustainable infrastructure, buildings and cities, and the co-deployment of energy and telecommunication infrastructures, using EU funds to leverage public and private investment.
Finally, in the context of greater digitalisation of the energy sector and the increasing use of data, the need for a strong cyber-security is even more acute. The Commission adopted a cybersecurity package last September proposing a wide-ranging set of measures to further improve EU cyber resilience and response.
The transition to a smart, secure and sustainable energy system is no longer a choice for Europe; it is a responsibility towards all citizens, our future generations and the planet. At the same time, this transition represents a real economic opportunity as it will bring new investments, jobs and growth and will empower consumers to participate actively in the market and benefit from new technologies.
This transition requires first and foremost bridging energy and digital economy. The single energy market and the digital single market must go hand-in-hand.