Imagine an invisible force that can move material swiftly from place to place, flash images of faraway lands instantly before our eyes, or shine light on darkness at the flick of a wrist. Our ancestors would have called it magic, but it’s what we know as the force of electricity. Ever since humans first saw lightening in the sky and called it the work of the gods, our vision of energy has been linked to the miraculous. And in today’s world it is wielded not by magicians or gods but by smart, sustainable technologies and human ingenuity.
Energy is more than just kilowatt hours
I recently joined VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. from the management team of an electricity company, where I spent fifteen years in customer service, witnessing the changing pace of energy in our lives. I came to understand that energy distribution means more than just selling electrons or kilowatt hours. Energy is smarter than that. Energy can equal a good cup of coffee or a comfortable commute. It can be about finding shelter or having a secure home with clean indoor air. Energy can also be about our ability to apply environmental technology to promote low-carbon lifestyles and fight climate change.
What is smart energy?
In my new position as the Co-Creation Manager at VTT, you could say I’ve moved from selling energy to selling the idea of energy, which brings me to the question: what is Smart Energy?
If I ask a customer, they might talk to me about Smart Energy as a service enabler that will change their way of doing business. If I ask one of the experts on my team, I might get a more technical answer about what happens when energy meets digital technology. Then if I ask a city manager, the answer may be different again, to do with how new smart grid infrastructure will affect the quality of life for citizens.
The answer comes from a shared vision
So I continue to ask the question: what is Smart Energy? The most comprehensive answer I can get is through what VTT does best. That is, bringing together wide cross-sector groups into what we call living laboratories. The Smart Otaniemi project as a smart energy innovation ecosystem among customers, technology experts, and the Espoo municipality is a case in point.
To realize a shared understanding and vision of what Smart Energy is, we need everyone at the table. We need these broad ecosystems, cross-cutting value chains, co-creating new solutions, bringing in new actors and new businesses, as well as combining pilots to find synergies.
Who will be teaching whom in our energy future?
To understand this shared Smart Energy vision, we also need to look beyond the present set-up. Clearly, the rising economies outside Europe, where renewable energy consumption is exploding, will soon lead the world in green energy. Smart energy is more easily applied to the light footed rising economies with little or no existing infrastructure, leaving them free to experiment. If we look at the history of energy in Europe, the US and China, growth came from substantially from coal. But now Smart Energy is changing the map. Africa is becoming the first region in the world to power its economic development on renewable energy rather than fossil fuel and India looks set to become the world’s largest energy consumer. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global electricity use looks set to double over the next 20 years. But the good news is that renewable energy sources should represent almost three quarters of the estimated $10.2 trillion the world is to invest in new power generating technology between now and 2040.
So as a newly appointed Smart Energy visionary, I have my answer: Smart Energy means combining energy with the power of technology and the power of partnership to co-create a cleaner, greener, and higher-quality life. And as a mother of two children, I would add, while leaving the world a better place than we found it.
This is the first in a series of VTT Smart Energy blogs, bringing you the very newest thinking and action around Smart Energy. Stay tuned for our next blog in August: “Finnish energy companies will conquer the world or will they?”, by Juha Hämekoski, Head of Sales and Customer Partnerships