The 21st Century Energy Dilemma

Boring. Predictable. Slow-moving. It is hard to believe that these were once the words used to describe our global energy sector.

While your energy supply remains stable and constant, the energy sector is undergoing something of a revolution. And it is anything but boring.

Of course, this is nothing new. As early as the 1880s, electricity has gone through innovative and revolutionary phases. From the appliances we use for everyday tasks to new competitors in the market, we have witnessed and benefited from the various changes.

Today, we face a second energy revolution. How did this happen and how will it impact us, the consumer? One of the reasons for this revolution is the big push towards a more sustainable and green energy.

First, our electricity system was obviously designed before variable (ocean, solar etc.) generation came into the mix. Secondly, we still need a significant level of conventional, non-variable generation for stability and also as a backup when the output from variable generation is low.

To ensure variable and conventional generation can work on our system, significant investment and technology is required. Once again, Ireland is leading the field in this area. We are now 4th in Europe for producing variable generation, demonstrating our ability to work effectively in both variable and conventional.

Amidst this change, our supply has remained consistent thanks to new smart network functionality. This not only supports the integration of variable, distributed generation and storage, it also enables real-time interaction between customers, their suppliers and the electricity system.

The Future Consumer

Interdependency is a major characteristic of the new energy landscape. For instance, we are already seeing the emergence of the ‘prosumer’ or producing consumer; a customer who generates as well as consumes electricity.

For example, it will soon be possible for consumers to optimise how their electric heating or electric vehicles use electricity, lowering their bills and helping the grid to make more use of renewable energy at lower cost.

Putting this power in the hands of the consumer requires a lot of innovation and investment on behalf of suppliers. And that work has already started. NEST and Climote are just two of the many devices developed to allow homeowners manage their heating via smartphone technology.

What Ireland Needs to do

As we embrace this new energy revolution, Ireland must remain committed to investing and innovating in our resources and technology. However, maintaining a safe and secure supply to power and support Ireland’s economy has to remain to the forefront of all plans.

As such, we need to and strive towards a generation portfolio that is diverse in technologies and fuel requirements, and that is highly flexible to reposed to the increasingly dynamic and unique requirements of the island’s electricity system.

Renewables will be a major and increasing part of this and, until new technologies emerge, fossil fuel-fired generation will be a critical enabler to this move. As the world’s energy players try to grapple with this new landscape, Ireland is proving to be a leader and not just a follower in the energy future. And we are just beginning.