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How future energy technology developments may impact your energy projects

How do you ensure that the projects you're implementing today aren't negatively impacted by future energy technology developments?

Technologies like solar on-site generation, battery storage and energy optimisation can help get your organisation started on the path towards a low carbon future. They can also help you to improve operational resilience and become more cost efficient.

However, new approaches are constantly being developed. When implementing new energy projects, it’s important to think about how they might be impacted by future technological developments, and then adjust your approach accordingly. This can help your energy projects to deliver the best value today, and into the long-term.

While you’re implementing energy projects today, how can you ensure they’re futureproofed for the changes that lie ahead? Let’s take a look at a few important technology trends that are on the horizon, and what they might mean for your energy projects.

Technology and innovation to secure net zero

There are three key areas where developing technologies can help your organisation secure net zero. Although many of these solutions exist today, it’s how they will develop and become commercially viable that’s important for the role they will play.

The first avenue area where technology can have an impact is alternative fuels. Using hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas in commercial heating systems and industry operations has great potential to provide a simple way to reduce emissions in the long term, particularly for industrial processes that require high intensity heat.

While hydrogen may not currently be a commercially viable alternative to natural gas, markets and technologies are quickly evolving. As the scope of applications become clearer and demand increases, alternative fuels should become more viable. Large organisations, national governments and regulators need to lead this transition of our energy system.

We’re proud to be playing our part, through our membership of the Hydrogen Taskforce, a growing coalition of the UK’s largest organisations that’s working closely with key stakeholders in Government to ensure the UK’s hydrogen strategy is reflective of the ambition of industry in the UK. What’s more, we’re also exploring the role that our Rough gas field could play in the future by repurposing it into a hydrogen storage facility, which will also help generate employment in the North-East of England.

The second area where technology can help your business achieve net zero is electrification. The explosive growth of renewable electricity from solar and wind in particular, is enabling the switch from fossil fuels to zero-carbon electrified alternatives.

Using electricity to generate heat, drive transport and power industrial processes isn't new. However, as the cost of green generation sources reduces, the business case for using electricity is much more attractive. For example, heating may be switched from gas boilers to heat pumps. Many countries are regulating the shift from internal combustion engines vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs) and low-temperature industrial heat could be replaced by high-temperature heat pumps.

Thirdly, the digitalisation of energy through data analysis and optimisation can help your business reduce its carbon emissions. Software is changing how every industry operates, especially energy. Through insights, analysis, connected devices and optimisation, technology is enabling greater efficiency and lower emissions.

While today’s energy management software can provide insights on energy use, tomorrow's technology will enable real-time carbon intensity data. Advanced controls will be developed that can co-optimise site loads and advance hardware to enable renewable microgrids. This will also allow for greater connectivity among national, local and on-site assets and devices.

See how insights helped a leading restaurant operator to avoid £1.2 million in unnecessary energy costs

The impact of hydrogen on decarbonisation

It’s likely that hydrogen is around five years away from being widely available as a fuel in hard-to-decarbonise industrial processes. While it is available today, it’s often expensive and challenging to deliver to site. When it does become more widely used, the impact it will have on decarbonisation will largely depend on the level of regulatory and policy support for hydrogen infrastructure.

Within four years, it’s likely that hydrogen from steam methane reforming, or coal gasification will be primarily used as a reactant for industrial processes. Green hydrogen is likely to be limited to niche use cases, such as fuel cells for forklifts, due to the high costs of H2 relative to natural gas.

Five years into the future, we can see the development of the most sustainable form of hydrogen being more commercially available. Known as green hydrogen, this fuel is produced using renewables and/or carbon capture and storage – making it 100% green. Although it’s unlikely to be used widely, due to its current high cost, there could be near term limited adoption of hydrogen use in industrial equipment as supply grows, enabling costs to fall.

Within the next ten years, we’d expect to see strong regulatory support for hydrogen. Assuming hydrogen infrastructure exists, heat decarbonization is likely to be driven by hydrogen boilers as they have a lower cost compared to heat pumps.

Additional policy support from governments will be required to drive heat decarbonisation. The likely result will be a network of heat pumps, electrification of boilers and hydrogen – creating a more sustainable and flexible system for further future development.

See how the hydrogen system of the future will come together:

The electrification of energy

With the explosive growth of renewable energy over the last decade, fossil fuel heating, transport and industry could also be replaced by electrified alternatives. For example, heating may be switched from gas boilers to heat pumps, transport will likely shift from combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles, and low-temperature industrial heat can be replaced by high-temperature heat pumps.

Within the next four years, air-source and ground-source heat pumps will become the default option for heating in new constructions. This will be particularly true if regulations banning gas in new buildings are passed, like similar regulations in the housing sector.

Electric vehicles and smart charging will become more widespread, especially if new regulations will require all government-funded chargers to be capable of smart charging.

Five years into the future and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and microgrids will be capable of islanding and feeding power back into the grid. This would enable further integration of flexible, electrified end-uses, such as heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and electric vehicles. High-temperature heat pumps will become a substitute technology for low-temperature industrial heating below 180°C, which currently makes up 45% of industrial heat.

From 2030, all new cars sold in the UK must be electric. In the absence of a hydrogen infrastructure, over 50% of heating in Europe (including the UK) could be supplied by distributed heat pumps in 2050. The remainder, would be provided by district heating, 62% of which would be powered by waste heat and renewables. Medium and high-temperature industrial heating would be unlikely to have electrified alternatives and would either add carbon capture storage to their operations, or be replaced by hydrogen.

Connected software to reduce emissions

Increasing amounts of internet-connected distributed energy resources (DER) are becoming integrated into the electricity system. As such, insights and optimisation software are critical to ensuring these resources are used effectively to reduce emissions.

Today, energy management software can provide insights on energy use, which can be leveraged to identify opportunities for efficiencies. Electric vehicle charging software can optimise loads to meet grid and site needs. Software developed by energy companies and startups can enable companies to automatically respond to demand response signals, based on peak demand or time of use. Building optimisation software can take occupancy into account to optimize and reduce energy usage.

Within the next five years, real-time carbon intensity data can be used to provide more accurate insights into an organisation’s energy consumption. Real-time marginal emissions data can be used to optimise the dispatch of DERs to maximize their emissions reduction.

Developing technologies like augmented reality for maintenance and repair (ARMAR) could have a role in enabling a faster, more efficient construction and maintenance of DERs. Advanced controls will be developed that can co-optimize site loads, solar PV, batteries and EV charging. The aggregation of DERs for market participation will become widespread, increasing business revenue.

Five years into the future, there will likely be a wide roll-out of 5G technology that will allow for greater connectivity among DERs and devices, particularly small IoT sensors.

Optimising your energy strategy: how we can help

To achieve full decarbonisation and futureproof your organisation’s energy portfolio, your energy projects need to align with a carbon reduction strategy that is both financially and environmentally sustainable.

Centrica Business Solutions is working to meet this challenge. We continuously investigate, evaluate and invest in developing technologies, combining them with our Energy Pathway methodology. Our research is focused on coordinating technology with customer projects over the long-term and developing scalable solutions to meet common commercial challenges.

Discover how Centrica Business Solutions’ Energy Pathway can help you optimise your energy strategy for a low carbon future.