Author | Esther Fuldauer
The only way to slow climate change will be by changing our energy system. But there are many financial, social and technical hurdles which must first be overcome when transitioning from using energy from fossil fuels to clean renewable sources.
In the path of energy transition, being overly concerned about its costs often neglects the mid and long-term benefits. Energy transition will lower energy prices through innovation and new trading platforms, and create many new jobs along the way. The cost of producing solar power is rapidly declining, with an estimated drop of 99% from four decades ago. Besides, local smart grids, or microgrids, can reduce power outages and make the energy system more resilient, and smart data driven tools can be used for design planning and getting citizens involved.
But it’s not all roses. There are big technical hurdles to tackle first. We need to deal with an old legacy power grid, which was built for getting electricity from big central power generators and going down from high voltage to mid and low voltage, and support decentralization and flexible sources with fluctuating power generation, as solar or wind generated power depend on changing weather conditions.
So how can we better plan the new energy system?
The problem is that in the world we have created, systems are interconnected and affect each other. Energy has a very huge effect on how we carry out our everyday living and any changes in these interconnected systems can have dramatic consequences. The strong decisions that must be taken now requires studying and observing the system as a whole.
Virtual Labs created a virtual testing lab using the Eindhoven University of Technology campus to test the energy transition and how to manage a new power grid addressing the most pressing decisions that need to be made, studying methods to model complex systems in transition. They have a smart mobility model and another one for electricity grids.
Local governments have many questions such as how will the increasing amount of electric vehicles affect the grid or when and where to place charge points and fast charging stations. Meanwhile, grid operators need to make their energy grids future proof. Governments are struggling with regulations for solar and wind energy, and the lab can make cost-benefit analysis in terms of money, CO2 emissions and social acceptance.
Data analytic tools that predict the future
We need to find ways to make energy transition more cost-effective and we can use data from new sources to do so. Luckily, there are tools for data analysis that help predict the future and we can use them for a low-cost energy transition.
Transformers, which typically are found everywhere for lowering voltage, are about to change into smart transformers. They will be able to adjust to the rapidly changing loads of distributed power sources managing the highly variable, two-way flow of electricity between a microgrid and the main grid. And more importantly, they will be able to send data.
Meanwhile, until old transformers are replaced by new ones, they can still be really useful. A smart grid tool developed by Enexis for the Dutch Interflex uses old transformer data. The project takes big data from transformer houses and pairs it with weather forecasts allowing for daily predictions.
Transformers have no data privacy issues as they conglomerate many users. This is being done in the Netherlands and will be rolled out for 30,000 transformer houses. 
Predictions are very useful as you can know the energy needs on the platform and prevent power outages. A user would also be able to know when it’s the best time to buy or sell left over energy saved in their batteries in an energy marketplace.
Energy markets are going to be much more dynamic and will become energy trading platforms, similar to a taxi platform or a hotel platform, cutting the middleman.
Europe is leaping ahead. Legislators have made regulation before the platform, enhancing trading from farmers or neighborhoods or private users. The Winter Package regulates energy flow on European, national, regional and local levels. It’s not talked much but it has the potential to change the world.
How users will benefit
We now have BIM 5D applications where users will see homes, buildings, traffic and utilities showing data in real-time. All the benefits of this energy transition will be made clear visually through digital twins of cities and augmented reality.
Using digital twins we will connect with an app and be able to access the energy market. For instance, we will be able to calculate how much money you are making with your solar panels or electric vehicle. The energy transition will gain traction then as it becomes much clear and it involves more people.
Gerard de Leede, Professor of Practice Smart Cities JADS Tilburg University. Presentation at Smart City Expo World Congress 2018. Resilient Cities: Anticipating the Unexpected