These disruptive trends are the future of energy

Blockchain, personalisation and virtual power plants change everything.

Disruption in a power station doesn't sound like good news. But, in this case, we’re referring to the same software-led disruption that affects other industries. These tech trends are making a huge difference, and tell us a great deal about the future of all monopoly services. GovInsider has pulled together the three big trends that are disrupting the energy sector. No, don’t worry, you don’t need a hazmat suit to continue. 1. Blockchain Startups are using the Blockchain to allow consumers to trade electricity amongst themselves, disrupting the role of traditional suppliers. Fremantle, a city in Western Australia, is partnering with Power Ledger, to allow residents to trade unused solar power to their neighbours, instead of re-selling it to electricity retailers. Currently, residents sell surplus power back to utility companies, but have to repurchase more supply at a premium. Sunnier climes could start to do without their power stations as solar power picks up. Blockchain is a distributed ledger that records live transactions across a network of computers. Information, once logged are irreversible and secure to hacks. 2. Personalised services Energy companies are using data analytics and AI to create personalised services for consumers. These understand someone’s consumption patterns and change price accordingly. Singapore just announced plans for electricity bills that tie into consumers’ living habits. This opens the possibility to personalised tariffs, instead of flat rates offered to everyone. Customers will be able to choose a package that best suits their needs from an array of trial plans. For instance, companies will cater power packages that are solar-reliant for environmentally-friendly consumers. Residents who are out most of the day can cut their utilities bill as prices will vary throughout the day, with the lowest rate at night. The move to launch competitive products came after the Energy Market Authority’s decision to open up the power retail market to private competitors by Q2 of 2018. Personalised services could change how people consume energy, and also provide a model for other services to follow. 3. Virtual power plants A virtual power plant (as opposed to a physical one) uses software to pull together multiple power sources - like solar power and wind energy. It optimises resources and distributes energy to users. AGL Energy, an Australian company launched plans for the world’s largest virtual power plant in August. The project comprises 1,000 batteries in homes and businesses in South Australia. “This project is the world’s largest, the first of its kind and an innovative solution to both help customers manage their energy bills and at the same time contribute to grid stability”, said Andy Vesey, Managing Director & CEO of AGL. “We believe it will demonstrate alternative ways to manage peaks in energy demand, contributing to grid stability and supporting the higher penetration of intermittent, renewable generation on the grid”, he added. The project is estimated to cost A$20 million, and allow residents a “greater ability” to use the energy from their rooftop panels, thereby slashing costs and cutting emissions. None of these tech trends are as disruptive as, say, nuclear fusion - a completely clean and sustainable energy source. But if big data and new delivery methods increase our efficiency - perhaps, combined with ever-more effective renewables - by the time fusion is invented it won’t be necessary.