Blockchain network

Viva Technology: data really is the new oil

Recently I attended the Viva Technology show in Paris where I immersed myself in future technology trends and all things related to the latest buzz areas such as Blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), AI (Artificial Intelligence) and BioTech. Like all good messages the best were not sector specific and certainly applied to my energy sector area of focus. To use one of the best clichés of the show: it was clear ‘data is the new oil’.

All organisations need to build data infrastructure and to understand the value of their data. As data storage is cheap, the advice was to keep hold of everything as its future applications and value may currently be unknown. Yes, mistakes will be made as companies use data to make predictions but this is all part of the learning process and there is no doubt that machine learning will become more accurate.

Blockchain – the electronic ledger technology – is intriguing in terms of the contribution it can make to future energy transaction models, especially peer to peer. LO3 Energy, for example, is running a trial where solar PV generators and users trade directly rather than via a centrally utility controlled grid. EDF is offering customers in its domestic French market new energy battery storage/solar PV generation packages, even extending to peer-to-peer trading. This is a bold attempt by EDF to reposition itself as an energy services platform provider.

Interestingly, Engie, the parent of EDF, believes the energy revolution is over and solar, wind and electric vehicles have already won. It bases this on recent global energy tenders where solar in Mexico and India, offshore wind in Denmark and the UK, and the lifecycle costs of EVs in some cities are already cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives.

Energy regulators and central grid infrastructure providers, which have monopolised the energy market for decades, are slow to adapt to the newly emerging decentralised energy market, where energy is increasingly generated and consumed at the grid edge. Their roles are shifting to being more about making sure the grid is balanced, allowing energy to be moved around in a smarter manner to meet demand. Storage is undoubtedly key to this in terms of supporting the site where the energy is generated as well as being able to feed it back in to the grid at a time when demand requires.  

There were numerous innovative companies at the show but some that I found most compelling included:

  • Green City Solutions, which is using new technology to fight air pollution, developing moss-covered urban furniture that cleans and filters the air. Each 'urban tree' performs the job of 250 normal trees and the company has 'trees' in 20 cities globally already.

  • Pavegen, which is rolling out a solution to generate power from the energy of people walking, transforming the urban landscape.

  • The Chinese bike share revolution is going international with Mobike Weshare, Ofo, Bluegogo exporting their non-docking station business model of brightly coloured bikes globally. Car journeys in the Chinese city of Chengdu fell by a staggering 30 per cent in one year largely because of the proliferation of bike share options.

I came away convinced of the importance of keeping an open mind, to take on new ideas and be open to change. Working in energy perhaps makes me more open to this, given the fast-moving nature of the energy sector. As a business we have had to be fleet of foot over the past decade in order to keep up with and react to change in this fast moving sector.

It is pretty clear that new technologies, or sometimes old technologies married to new business models can, will and are having an increasingly dramatic impact on the way we all think, act, behave and spend.

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