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Sustainable Leaders: Technology as a driver of sustainability in the energy sector

Achieving sustainability is a key consideration for both consumers and business, writes Gary Ryan, Managing Director, Energia. With constant advances in digital solutions, companies are often faced with the challenge of incorporating new technologies. Sustainability is not a recent phenomenon or concept; rather it has been in the public consciousness for over thirty years with an ever-increasing focus internationally since the turn of the century. As we move toward 2020 there is a broad acceptance here in Ireland that efforts with regard to sustainability, decarbonisation and associated areas need to be redoubled if we are to meet the needs of communities and businesses today and into the future. As a leading energy provider, at Energia we understand our role in this regard and as such we are evolving, drawing on technical innovation that will benefit our customers and broader society.

Gary Ryan, Managing Director, Energia Retail
Gary Ryan, Managing Director, Energia Retail

Innovation and investment

Within the energy sector, when we consider innovation we need to look at the factors concerning investment and the services provided to the end user. We are seeing the increasing integration of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, tidal and bioenergy driven by advancements in technology. This has increased the opportunity for the investment community, however, investors are often asked to invest in what can be an expensive process, with no guarantee of short term results.
In terms of end users in the residential and business sector, there is an ongoing need to facilitate the deployment of renewable energy sources, making them easily accessible, and ensuring that the public are aware of their clear benefits. Ultimately, accessibility, affordability and a return on investment are factors that energy providers need to demonstrate to facilitate innovation and adoption.

Positive action

While society knows the importance of sustainability, we need to ask what will drive adoption and positive action. At Energia, we supply approximately 25% of the island of Ireland’s total electricity requirements and 21% of the islands total wind power meeting the energy needs of over 58,000 business customers and over 200,000 homes so we are seeing the factors that need to be considered. Digital transformation is an important aspect, adopting and integrating new technologies that meet the needs of our business and the needs of customers.

 

Linked to this, it is important that the energy sector understand the evolution of the consumer. The rise of new technologies and societal norms such as work-life balance, education etc. all has consequences for the demands of energy consumers. People want greater control, for example, the ability to adjust energy settings remotely for their business, manage internal home heating settings etc.

From consumers to prosumers

We are also seeing the movement of people from consumers to prosumers, while an emerging phenomenon, customers are empowered to generate electricity privately and sell it back to the grid. These are just a few examples of the emerging trends that the energy sector needs to be aware of and able to address today, as well as in the future. Recognising the need for sustainable innovation, today Energia supplies approximately 1GW of renewable energy across Ireland. We have invested significantly in our wind assets and our new €50 million anaerobic digestion plant at Huntstown in Dublin will become operational at the end of this year.
We are also upgrading our digital capabilities to account for the emergence of new technologies such as the internet of things and the fact that we will be required to manage increasing volumes of data and connected devices associated with the needs of our customers. This process of innovation also extends externally, where we are developing digital ecosystems consisting of tech-entrepreneurs right through to established suppliers. While we have listed a few examples of how we are innovating across our business, we do recognise that sustainability encompasses several areas such as decarbonisation, energy provision, usage – it is interlinked across our internal and external functions. Fundamentally, this process of innovation is ongoing so as to ensure we can not only match, but also anticipate, the needs of our customers, and broader communities in the short, medium and long term.

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