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Energy challenge

Climate change has now become the problem the world cannot ignore. Creating low carbon economies and reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels, will require making fundamental changes to the way we live. How we produce, distribute and use energy is key to this.

Decentralized and local energy generation are more and more seen as having the potential to deliver huge CO2 reductions by enabling the convergence of power and gaz systems, fostering the development of renewable energy production, and providing the cornerstone of new energy vectors such as hydrogen.

Decentralized energy allows the financial costs and energy losses associated with the long-distance national transmission system to be reduced and savings passed on to local projects and consumers.

Barriers to decentralization are substantial. Notwithstanding the current regulatory and commercial framework of the energy industry, our ability to display the right vision and work out an appropriate governance will be decisive.

To achieve all this we need an energy revolution to incentivize groundbreaking systemic projects encompassing new technologies and principles.

Hydrogen as a new energy vector

Hydrogen is the simplest atom in the universe. Its nucleus contains just a single particle: a proton. Around this nucleus, just one electron orbits, making it very similar to electricity.

Hydrogen is a founding element, as carbon. Scientists say that hydrogen gave birth to all of the other elements that make up matter.

The hydrogen molecule is made up of two hydrogen atoms. It is sometimes called di-hydrogen (H2). It is the lightest gas in the world.

Hydrogen has long attracted the attention of policy makers and industrialists as a possible future energy vector, due to its own individual characteristics, which makes this element one of the cleanest and most efficient energy sources: Clean, since it does not emit C02 nor thin particles during combustion and efficient, as its energy density makes it a perfect bridge between our power and gas energy systems when produced through electrolysis.

Today, the most significant current use of hydrogen is as a raw material for petrochemical processes. Its production is largely centralized and relies on fossil fuels.

Tomorrow, making hydrogen a sustainable energy vector for decentralized energy systems will require a significant shift in production modes and supply chain design.

A digital era

Our world is awash in data. The multiplication over the past decade of mobile devices, sensors of all kind and broadband communication capacity has made data production skyrocket, with no exception in the world.

Our energy system is particularly concerned, due to the emergence of multiple renewable energy sources, often intermittent energy producers, and demand side management protocols for millions of consumption points. On its way to the so called “Smart Grid revolution”, our energy system has become digital, and sees data arriving in volume, with velocity, and of variety far greater than ever experienced. Planning, forecasting, risk analysis, control of operations (voltage, power production,…) have become increasingly complex to manage threatening energy availability and grid stability.

Unlocking value lying within (Big) data through analytics can yield substantial gains to overcome the challenges at stake. But, beyond better and safer operational supervision and controls, big data analytics can also pave the way to renewed management and decision schemes and help citizen play an active role in the system. More specifically in decentralized energy systems, where data complexity is partly eased off by the reduction in scope, they could provide leaders and citizens the tools for better decisions, to resolve problems proactively and reduce supply and demand gap.

Despite its promise, big data analytics presents big challenges: how to unlock value at greater speed, scale, and efficiency?

Mixed ecosystems

In most urban areas around the world, citizens and communities have until recently hardly engaged in energy related debates. Energy, as a (public) service often centrally managed was not under question, neither its origin nor its means of distribution, and even more so in heavily subsidized systems.

The Fukushima disaster and the concomitant deployment of decentralized production infrastructure contributed to trigger different thinking and motivated some interest in this broad issue.

Realizing its utmost complexity, different communities are trying to apprehend it from their own perspective leading to the coexistence of multiple positions: as an example, functions of both urban and energy systems are still planned and operated in silos which leads to competing demands and declining operational performance.

But, every decision a community makes affects the vital interests of different stakeholders.

Broader conversations of interconnectedness and integration are starting to happen here and there, often facilitated by the leadership of a very person.

A new governance is on its way. Possibilities are large and need the confrontation of experience.