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Perspectives Global 01-07-2020

Achieving better renewable integration today for the power system of tomorrow

Agustín Delgado, Chief Innovation and Sustainability Officer, Iberdrola, believes we’re on the cusp of an energy revolution. What role will renewable energy play?

As Chief Innovation and Sustainability Officer for Iberdrola, I have the pleasure to be working at one of the world’s leading utility companies at a pivotal moment in the energy sector’s history: the emerging dominance of renewables in the energy mix.

In 2020, we are not only seeing renewables thrive – as previous technological investments take hold – we are on the cusp of an energy revolution. And this revolution will play a huge role in the delivery of the SGD7: to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

My vision: a world where renewables are the main source of power

To share my vision – in 20 years from now, I believe it is highly likely that renewable-powered electricity, particularly wind, hydro and photovoltaics, will be the predominant source of power in the world. The electrification and digitalization of almost all every day services will be driving demand and efficiency, and the technologies we are investing in now will have transformed the sector, bringing reliance on fossil fuels down to a minimum. As part of this, I believe costs will have also fallen and become more stable, as the economic advantages of renewables are better realized in this decade, and the next.

This may seem ambitious, but even five years ago the renewables performance of today would have been predicted by very few people – and yet our past investments in technology and digitalization are now making big changes a reality. 

Change is required at all levels

But to realize the vision I’ve set out for 2040, the energy sector and governments still need to make some very deliberate choices and investments. And consumer behaviour must change too.

To explain – we firstly need to invest in existing power grids to ensure we maximise the integration of renewables into systems now, and into the future as renewables rise in prominence.

However, while maximizing the capability of existing grids is effective in the short to medium term, soon industry and governments must also embark on a programme of major upgrades to develop the next generation of this infrastructure. In all cases, governments need to recognise the value that good grids bring to society, while utility companies must increase their own co-operation to create the interconnected and resilient grids we will need in the future.

Electrification of everyday services and digitalization – the driving forces for the integration of renewables

And to really accelerate this important evolution, I believe the electrification of more every day services will be needed – especially in transport and industrial and residential heating – and consumers must be encouraged to take up electric options. 

I believe this change in consumer behaviour is achievable, and especially in the digital age. Here, Iberdrola relies on its industry partners to take the charge on introducing new technologies that will switch more domestic services to digital platforms. Smart meters provide a good example of how impactful this can be – already they are enabling better demand response and helping to reduce the cost of energy while increasing quality of supply, thereby helping electricity – generated by renewables – to become the resource of choice.

And while digital may present some challenges, such as cyber security concerns, these can be managed and the benefits of digital make it a more than a worthwhile investment. 

Indeed, digitalization will perhaps be the most important driving force in the greater integration of renewables into existing grids and also in enabling better distribution grid and transmission grid interaction. 

Looking to the future with optimism

I am optimistic about the future. With the right investment in the grid, focus on digitalization and encouragement of behavioural change amongst consumers, renewables will continue to go from strength-to-strength.

Evidently, achieving my vision is a huge challenge, and yet already in 2020, the harsh and tragic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic are spurring ingenuity and innovation in all walks of life. As part of this, the case for putting sustainability and renewables at the heart of the global recovery is gaining ground and we all now have a new perspective on the world’s reliance on oil and coal.

And this will be essential to the fulfilment of that all-important SDG7. With more effective grids and greater digitalization, we will be able to bring more ‘modern energy for all’, based on renewables, to countries experiencing economic hardship. At the same time, industry work to reduce its cost will drive uptake even further and will enable deeper electrification that drives efficient energy use for all people.

Infrastructures and societies across the are world are evidently different, but ultimately the challenge and solutions are shared, and I am personally relishing Iberdrola’s role in getting this right.