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Making future energy systems a reality

30th September 2021

Utility and energy professionals from 700+ organisations worldwide attended Cavendish Group's inaugural Future Energy Systems virtual conference on 28 September 2021

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde

Exploring the critical role of technology in delivering a net-zero energy system, speakers from global utility, energy, and innovative technology companies gathered together to analyse the barriers to adoption and investigate the challenges and opportunities from renewable energy growth.

Setting the theme for the event, Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde – home of headline event sponsor Power Network Distribution Centre (PNDC) – delivered the keynote address. And following six lively panel discussions and five case studies, the resounding message from the one-day conference was that a net-zero global energy system could be achieved, with clean electricity at its core, but radical and transformative action is needed now.

Delegates heard from 38 engaging speakers, all agreeing that to power our net-zero future successfully, the industry needs: new business models, new collaborations, new regulatory and governance frameworks, new habits for consumers and crucially new digital technologies including AI, Big Data, machine learning, IoT and edge computing for smarter and more flexible grids.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald said: "Regardless of the scenario that we will face in 2050, the electric grid and the digital infrastructure underpinning it will be a key platform for any decarbonised future energy system."


He called on industry, academia and government to work together to drive the investment and innovation necessary to modernise the UK's ageing electric transmission and distribution infrastructure and maximise the economic opportunity for jobs and growth.

Adam Soroka, Managing Director of Cavendish Group, said: "Reimagining the power grid for a resilient future represents a seismic challenge for the energy industry. But it also offers tremendous opportunity as grid operators look to invest billions of pounds in upgrading legacy systems with scalable, data-centric technologies to proactively plan and manage a more decentralised and greener grid for safety and efficiency.

"The time for real disruption in the energy sector is long overdue. Future Energy Systems united key stakeholders and inspired debate on how to accelerate action to decarbonise, decentralise and digitise energy usage while meeting the escalating demand for power."

Harnessing the value of open data and digitalisation through co-creation and collaboration will be key to achieving a truly integrated decentralised system across power generation, heat and transport. However, managers were cautioned not to postpone digitalisation due to data quality as it's a barrier that is almost impossible to overcome due to the nature of the grid itself. Instead, use digitalisation to help expose the knowledge gaps and address them accordingly. Other barriers to digital adoption include limited budgets and a bottom-up approach to data.

By bringing together detailed case studies and specialist workshops from technology and software innovators, Future Energy Systems' carefully crafted programme identified ways to break down these barriers and set out compelling business cases for digital investment.

With more consumers flicking the switch to green energy, the big question put to panellists was whether a 100% renewable energy grid was achievable? Can we balance out variable renewable energy, including wind and solar, in a deeply decarbonised grid without carbon-free baseload resources? As intermittent renewables scale up, two enablers – green hydrogen and AI – look set to play critical roles in stabilising grids, but it's a difficult challenge and one that will need a highly optimised, highly integrated, and highly coordinated whole-energy system.

Meanwhile, to reach net-zero by 2050, we need nuclear and CCS technologies.

While it was clear from the discussions throughout the day that transitioning to a net-zero consumer-driven energy system won't be easy, the optimism throughout the Future Energy Systems conference was palpable. Decentralised generation, coupled with decentralised storage and trading of clean power from devices ranging from millions of interconnected EVs to grid-scale batteries, will demand a high level of automation with a two-way flow of electricity and information. However, we don't need to reinvent the wheel or deep dive into new technology solutions. We need to learn from others, scale up the existing technology, and utilise data to drive simple efficiencies.

Joining Adam Soroka to draw Future Energy Systems to a close, David Hartell, Managing Director of Stellae Energy Ltd., said: "We've heard great discussions throughout the day informing the debate on decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation. How will our grids cope? Can we produce enough electricity? Can we transmit and distribute it? Solving the high-capacity long-duration energy storage dilemma will be crucial for balancing intermittency on the grid and capturing wasted energy caused by renewable curtailment.”

" One key thing in all of this is that technology is here to help. Decarbonisation demands an efficient, diverse energy mix, and improved ways of operating networks – digitalisation can support these changes"

Join our next "Future Event": Future Oil & Gas on 16–17 November 2021