16 October 2021
Clean energy and digitalisation: two pillars of the European Green Deal

By Vincent Berrutto, Head of Unit: Innovation, Research, Digitalisation, Competitiveness, Directorate-General for Energy – European Commission, (pictured)
Autumn 2021


Adina Valean, EU Commissioner for TransportWe enter the digital world from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we go to bed at night. We check who has responded to us on social media, we write text messages to touch base with family and friends. At the same time, we tell our kids to put their cellphone away at the breakfast table! In the past 18 months, many of us have had to telework, telestudy or teleschool in a way that would not have been possible even five years ago.

As the pandemic has unfolded, most people have found themselves relying even more on the welcome distraction of streaming services. A huge selection of movies and podcasts have been ready-to-use on laptops, tablets and smartphones. We interact with complicated algorithms dressed up as virtual personal assistants to look for music or to check where we parked our car.

Would you change your behaviour when you see others using digital tools to become more environmentally-friendly? Can you imagine buying a car that is not just a means of transport, but also a means to sell power to the grid and to use more renewable energy? Are we really moving in the direction of radically new services targeted towards our specific needs and preferences?

Today's energy system is already radically changing. The European Commission’s Energy System Integration Strategy pictures a renewable-based energy system that is more electrified, more efficient, more flexible and that uses infrastructure more wisely. The mega trends we are experiencing today are based on the three 'Ds': decentralisation, decarbonisation and digitalisation. Each of these has their own challenges, but they also provide opportunities as we shape up for Europe to become climateneutral by 2050. This is the core focus of the European Green Deal and the European Commission’s number one political priority.

Digitalisation has changed, is changing and will continue to change the way we supply, buy and use energy and the way we decarbonise the energy system.

Digital technologies have many benefits - from helping to improve the efficiency of wind turbines, to keeping us better informed on environmentally friendly practices. Do we fully grasp the transformative implications of digitalisation for energy, be it for companies, grids or consumers? To shed light on the questions and navigate through the challenges of digitalisation, we need to identify the key issues at stake and pinpoint exactly how to make the best use of digital technologies in energy for the benefit of society as a whole.

The European Commission is preparing an "Action Plan on the Digitalisation of the Energy System", which will outline ways to benefit from the full potential of digital technologies as we advance towards a green and digital future.

The green and digital transformation goes beyond just technological change. It is rather a combination of changes to infrastructure and changes in the way different market actors interact in the energy system. This applies, for instance, to network operators, building management systems, energy suppliers, aggregators, consumers, but also new digital service providers.

To develop a competitive and innovative European market for energy services we need easy access to data and interactive data exchange. The first aim of the action plan, therefore, is to develop a European data-sharing infrastructure, or a "Common European Energy Data Space".

The second aim is to address the challenge of developing a data-driven and citizen-centred energy market. This will focus on empowering consumers and looking at the ways digital solutions and future energy community models can perform well in energy markets, and ways to help them to consume less energy and more renewables. At the same time, the plan will address the challenges posed by the digital divide, energy poverty and the lack of digital skills and their consequences.

The third aim of the action plan is to present EU funding and other means of support, such as through Horizon Europe (for research and innovation), the Connecting Europe Facility and the Digital Europe Programme (on digital infrastructure and interconnections). As well as finding the most efficient combination between public and private investment, such programmes can help improve the use of IT in the energy sector. Digital solutions have a profound transformational potential. They create new business opportunities, new actors in the market, new business models.

Ever-evolving digitalisation makes the energy system smarter, but opens up new risks. Cyberattacks and cybersecurity breaches jeopardise the security of energy supply and data privacy. We do not need to look far to see the evidence: look at the cyberattack on a major oil pipeline in the US2, or the large-scale attacks on critical energy infrastructure from the US SolarWinds platform. By attacking one company, hackers compromised thousands of others.

Related to this, the fourth aim of the action plan is to strengthen cybersecurity and data protection in the energy sector. Making sure that the privacy of our citizens is protected is a basic condition for any digital solution.

The fifth aim is about supporting the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector in becoming a frontrunner in energy efficiency, in reusing waste heat, and using more renewable energy. The Commission is more than aware of the growing energy needs and increasing carbon footprint of the ICT sector and networking technologies.

More information on these five aims of the action plan are available in the roadmap presenting the initiative, published in July and inviting feedback. An Open Public Consultation will be launched in the coming months. Comments will feed into the action plan, which is scheduled to be adopted by the European Commission in the first half of 2022.

Another opportunity to provide feedback will be the European Sustainable Energy Week in October. This year's event is called "Towards 2030: Reshaping the European Energy System". On 27 October, we will hold a dedicated session on "Digitalisation of Energy: A step forward for the twin Green and Digital transition". It will be a valuable opportunity for discussion and to look beyond the boundaries of the energy sector, learning from the experiences of other sectors on digitalisation.

Readers keen on shaping the discussion and gaining more insight on the topic, are invited to save the date and register to the event. We look forward to seeing you there!

 


[1] EU Strategy for Energy System Integration COM(2020) 299 final, July 2020)
[2] Remarks by Vice-President Schinas: Joint Cyber Unit (europa.eu)