Digital Energy Transformation: Powering the World, Saving the Planet

How can we meet the world's growing energy demand while prioritizing the health of our planet? The answer, in part, lies in grid modernization and digitalization.

By Hayley Tabor, Vice-President Global Industries and David Holmes, Chief Technology Officer, Energy at Dell Technologies

Meeting the world’s growing demand for energy, while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gases, is one of the greatest challenges we’ll face over the coming decades. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Report, global energy demand is projected to grow by 16 percent between 2020 and 2030. That’s an increase greater than the primary energy consumption of all of Europe.

Added to this dramatic growth equation is the urgent need to accelerate the transition to sustainable but intermittent distributed energy resources (like wind and solar); increase new transmission and distribution lines worldwide (which, according to the IEA, could be as much as 16,000,000 kilometers by 2030); and introduce utility-scale energy storage and operational complexity increases by orders of magnitude.

Yet, the fundamental grid architecture has not altered much since its genesis over a century ago. The original grid conceived by Thomas Edison was based on central points of electrical generation that transmitted high voltage power to distribution substations where the voltage was stepped down. Electricity was then distributed to factories, homes, and businesses. Importantly, power flowed in a single direction.

Although the grid has, for some decades, supported modest amounts of sustainable energy, accommodating the massive surge in solar and wind power generating capacity in the years ahead requires a transformation of the electrical grid at an extraordinary pace. Presently, the electrical generating capacity of solar and wind energy sources is growing five times faster than all other forms of generating capacity.

To fully realize the value of this new sustainable generating capacity, we need to completely change the way that we manage the consumption and distribution of energy. We need to optimize usage so that we minimize the carbon intensity of energy generation and maximize the use of sustainable energy resources.

Modernizing the Grid

This represents a substantive challenge. We need to implement new ways to manage every step of the energy supply chain—from generation to transmission to distribution to consumption. Keep in mind that we can now store large amounts of energy not only in utility-scale energy storage but also in batteries used in electric vehicles equipped with vehicle-2-grid and vehicle-2-home technology. We also need to fully integrate smart homes, smart factories, smart buildings, and even smart cities into the energy ecosystem.

To do this, we need to capture vast amounts of information at the very edges of our energy ecosystem, we need to process and analyze this data in real time, and then we need to federate and aggregate critical data, sending it to central operations centers and onto the cloud.

In short, the grid must be modernized and automated with edge technology. An edge-based architectural paradigm, with a layer of machine learning, analysis, pre-processing, and data-wrangling enables real-time capabilities that accommodate distributed generation and storage together with smart consumption.

Another consideration is that the electric grid is a key component of the critical infrastructure that nations depend upon to maintain the safety and security of their citizens. Any technology deployed in support of the electric grid must be highly available and resilient in the face of environmental volatilities, as well as cybersecurity challenges.

Awareness at the Grid Edge

As efforts progress to modernize the electric grid, numerous coalitions have been created to accelerate these developments. Among them is GridWise, a group designed to accelerate the development of markets for cost-effective smart grid modernization technologies. In a joint report with EY, GridWise laid out a multi-step plan for distribution utilities. The second phase requires meaningful investments in sensors to automate and control the network and deliver situational awareness at the “grid edge.” It advocates the need for greater awareness and monitoring at the edge.

Collaborating With the Grid

Make no mistake, we are already in the early throes of an energy transition, underpinned by edge technology and utilities’ expanding ability to analyze data at source and act in real-time. According to Forrester’s research, 84 percent of utility companies are either implementing or planning to implement edge IoT-enabled distribution automation of electricity or water.

Today, renewable energies are overloading the grid. It’s feared that electric vehicles will do likewise. In the near future, however, with a modernized grid served by smart, responsive technology, sustainable energy will be that much closer to delivering against government, society, and corporate net-zero targets. Rather than overwhelming the grid, both energy consumers and producers will digitally collaborate and, in doing so, provide a path forward to meet the burgeoning demand for energy and our climate change and sustainability targets.

Climate change and sustainability are at the heart of Dell Technologies’ value system and how we operate. We are committed to finding new ways to reduce our footprint, restore balance to the ecosystem and achieve net-zero by 2050. Beyond our own footprint, we also champion the role technology can play in helping our customers meet their climate and sustainability goals. Find more information here.