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New Energy World
New Energy World embraces the whole energy industry as it connects and converges to address the decarbonisation challenge. It covers progress being made across the industry, from the dynamics under way to reduce emissions in oil and gas, through improvements to the efficiency of energy conversion and use, to cutting-edge initiatives in renewable and low carbon technologies.
Modelling of complex energy systems is an invaluable tool for predicting the future and for seeing a path to the transition, writes David Wilson, CEO of Energy Exemplar.
‘The reality is, to get renewables to scale, we’re going to have to have other clean energy friends in the mix.’ So said Angela Wilkinson, the Secretary General and CEO of World Energy Council, in a recent panel discussion for US news channel CNBC. She highlighted the close link between discussions about how to mitigate the effects of climate change and the energy transition – how we move away from fossil fuels to a system in which renewables form the majority of energy sources.
‘We can’t let perfection be the enemy of the good in this,’ Wilkinson added. ‘We’re going to have to have hydrogen doing the lifting, we’re going to have to have gas with CCUS (carbon capture, use and storage) lifting, we’re going to have to have grid strengthening going on.’
It’s true that the transition to net zero won’t be easy; and with every passing year the pressure to accelerate that transition grows. Organisations face the daunting task of taking bold forward steps towards a more climate-friendly way of operating without tripping themselves up, or worse.
It isn’t as simple as throwing different energy sources into the mix; or making a one, five and 10-year plan. A dizzying array of other factors are interacting all the time to complicate the journey, against a backdrop of a rapidly warming planet.
Modelling has changed the world
There is a solution to this, and it’s called modelling. It’s no exaggeration to say that modelling has changed our world, giving us a means to look into the future and make decisions with a level of self-confidence and at a speed that has never been available at any point in human history.
NASA has spoken of the vital importance of climate models – mathematical simulations of the various factors that interact to affect the Earth’s climate, such as our atmosphere, ocean, ice, land surface and the sun. A study showed that predictions over the past 50 years have ‘skilfully projected global warming’, as one of its authors put it. It’s worth noting that this study includes models of a quality that pale in comparison to that available today.
In the energy market, modelling is making itself felt as a powerful way to enable organisations to convert entire physical systems into mathematical problems, and then to illuminate the best course of action from a range of options.
These organisations can use software, such as PLEXOS from Energy Exemplar, to take the physics of a material asset and then predict how changing circumstances will affect it over time. Think of it this way: if you understand the structure and workings of a car – the shape of the car, how much fuel it consumes, how fast it goes – you can generate a digital replica of it, or ‘digital twin’, and then see how it will react in different material environments.
Energy companies can thus use modelling to consider variations in supply, demand and pricing, and how assets and infrastructure will respond as the planet heats up. They can evaluate an unlimited number of scenarios.
Modelling will be key to introducing those ‘clean energy friends’ that Wilkinson spoke about. Hydrogen, in ‘green’ form – created through electrolysis, which separates it from water, the process powered by renewable energy – will need to be adopted in sectors where it has historically been almost absent, such as transport. Our grids and infrastructure will need to be prepared for it and other sources of energy by the time those sources are ready to be introduced.
Energy companies can use modelling to consider variations in supply, demand and pricing, and how assets and infrastructure will respond as the planet heats up. They can evaluate an unlimited number of scenarios.
It is no wonder that many public and private organisations, from the UK’s National Grid to Georgia’s electricity transmission system operator Georgian State Electrosystem, are turning to advanced modelling software to help them navigate the challenges posed by the race to net zero.
So, Wilkinson is right when she says the green transition won’t be easy. But it can be made quicker, smoother and safer with the right tools.
Ingenuity, not prophets
Human ingenuity has taken us from a place where predictions about the future were for prophets and seers to one where any individual with the right technology can get an accurate sense of what tomorrow’s world will look like. That’s a major leap forward, and the kind of technological advance that can help us to adapt in an uncertain and warming world.
Forget the so-called miracle technologies. We have a crystal ball.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.