From ‘burning dead dinosaurs’ to a decarbonised future

Recently, leaders in renewable energy met at the Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub to discuss the three Ds: decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitisation.

“The old energy market was a one-way street, where a centralised, coal- or gas-fired power plant sent electricity via high-voltage power lines into your house,” said the first speaker, Joe Devlin of Viridian and Elastic Energy.

The final speaker was Jenny Livingstone from Power NI. She made the point that no one should discount the government’s role to transform the energy markets. “Don’t forget, there are useful policy instruments coming out of government to decarbonise.”

She explained: “If we buy a new home, it’s so much more efficient than it would have been even 10 years ago, largely driven by building regulations. The change from lightbulbs to fluorescents to LEDs – consumption is reducing, and that is largely a result of governmental policy.”

She said: “Reducing energy use is by far and away the best thing we can do – but it’s not as exciting as new technology.”

Power NI currently has at least 10,000 pro-sumers – customers who are microgenerating their own power. “Primarily from solar, but wind turbines and hydro as well,” Livingstone said.

“Battery storage will start to come along and make that even more viable. At the minute, the investment doesn’t match up for most people,” she said. “But an electric vehicle is a battery parked outside your house,” she pointed out.

She talked about how the utility suppliers have to adapt to this new world. “It changes the economics of how to pay for the grid; if people are off the grid but still need it sometimes, there’s a lot of head-scratching on how to make that work.”

Her final point was that no one should be left behind, particularly those in fuel poverty. “In NI we already have quite high levels of fuel poverty,” Livingstone said.

“Smart metering and the IoT can be a fantastic enabler – but it’s worth remembering it’s not free. We need customer protection to make sure people aren’t left behind who aren’t able to get into the renewable source game.”

By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

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