Ensto and the Electricity Revolution

How the grid, cities, and transportation will all become smart — and how Ensto will be part of the revolution.

The smarter our world becomes, the more electricity is used. The smart grid, smart cities, and smart transportation are areas where Ensto contributes to energy efficiency, as well as to sustainable- and reliable electric energy distribution.


The urban energy challenge

In a modern city, approximately one third of energy is consumed by heating and cooling, one third by transportation and the final third by electricity. As new building norms require energy efficiency measures, the share of heating and cooling will decrease. But the share of energy used for transportation is forecasted to grow with the overall use of electricity.

By 2050, some five billion people, 70 percent of the world's population, will live in cities. Urbanization not only changes social life, but increases the demand for energy, transportation, and services. The ever-growing cities face serious issues of air quality, congestion, and the supply of services. 

Additionally, international commitments should contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the use of fewer resources, and energy savings. The energy challenge of cities seems huge, and without smarter and more sustainable solutions, targets will remain unachieved. Smart use of electricity is one of the solutions for more sustainable cities.


Electricity: more than just another form of energy

Sometimes we take electricity for granted and assume it is always available. But as straightforward the route to the domestic outlet is, there is a lot of smartness involved. There is no other energy form or technology to replace electricity in its versatility.

Electricity transmission- and distribution grids are the energy backbone of a modern society. Reliability of distribution has become of utmost importance since many vital services in cities rely on electricity. The absence of electricity would be noticed immediately in lighting, traffic lights, elevators, factory processes, and gradually in our telecommunications.

The electricity we consume daily is a mix generated from multiple sources. In Finland, we enjoy an electricity mix that is 40 percent renewables and almost 80 percent carbon free on a yearly average.

Political incentives, grants, and feed-in tariffs have sped up the development of greener electricity in many countries. On the other hand, the electricity system has become more complex. Balancing consumption and production of weather-driven and distributed generation is a technical challenge for the grid and for the electricity market. Smart grid solutions that enable multidirectional energy flow, maintain excellent reliability of distribution, and connect producers and consumers in the electricity market are needed.

The vast energy potential of the sun harnessed by solar energy systems makes electric energy increasingly renewable and emissions free. There is no other energy form possessing even near the long-term potential of solar energy, and global investments in solar electricity amounted to 161 billion USD in 2015. Technological development has brought solar electricity to a very affordable cost level, enabling it to compete against traditional generation.


The E-Revolution in the transportation sector

Road transportation has over the decades been dominated by fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, but this situation is changing rapidly and dramatically. Global regulations on CO2 and NOx-emissions have put pressure on vehicle manufacturers to develop more environmentally friendly vehicles. Additionally, technology developments of Li-Ion batteries and electric drive trains have enabled the electrification of passenger vehicles. These together have resulted in an increasing supply of electric vehicles (EVs) with improved performance and range. It has been estimated that in 2020 there will be more than 1.5 million electric vehicles in Europe. If you haven't driven an EV yet, you soon will.

On average, an EV uses approximately half to one third the energy of an internal-combustion-engine-powered vehicle to cover the same distance. On an European scale, where some 12 Million passenger cars are registered yearly, energy savings potential is huge. Additionally, electric vehicles are truly emissions-free in use and help contribute to cleaner city air. EVs decrease Europe's dependency on oil imports.

A fleet of electric vehicles demands a reliable and smart supply of electricity. Intelligent charging stations and services will be needed on a large scale in connection with parking at bus, metro, train and tram stations. EV charging will be installed in work places and homes. Hotels will offer charging as a normal service for guests. Some big retailers already offer free charging for shopping mall customers. 

Millions of vehicles charging simultaneously would accumulate energy demand to high peak loads in a few hours, and therefore charging needs to be smart from day one. With smart charging, the driver plugs in normally, and intelligent controls ensure the car is economically charged during off-peak hours, avoiding peak consumption. A smart charging service will connect the EV to the energy market and enable consumers to take full advantage of electricity offers and maximizes the use of renewables.


Technologies open up new opportunities

 The energy business is not immune to disruptive technology developments. Digitalization advances with a variety of implications. Social media has changed our life and increased transparency. Ways of working are changing and the digi-generations have totally new ways of communicating. The Internet of things connects objects and makes them part of the big data ecosystem.

There is a lot of opportunity for data-minded developers to make the electricity system smarter. Through co-creation, universities and companies can explore new business opportunities not only in digital technology but also in energy storage for the balance of energy usage. We at Ensto look at the future with great expectations in making our world smarter and life better with electricity.

Text. Matti Rae