Ninety percent of businesses and 70% of residential customers will run “smarter energy” by 2025, said Maher Chebbo, President of the European Smart Metering Industry Group (ESMIG), recently at E-world in Essen. Chebbo said at the sidelines of the event that digital technologies bring a lot of value for industry and society, and a lot of utilities want to tap into this value.

“By 2020, 80% of meters installed in homes in EU member states will be smart, and this will also enable new services to be deployed,” said Chebbo, adding that ESMIG has defined 17 services.

“The deployment of these services will transform houses into ’smarter homes’ and make customers participate,” said Chebbo, mentioning smart energy services such as smart home technologies, in-house displays, appliances providing data, and customers participating in demand response management.

Meanwhile, 90% of commercial industrial customers will definitively use solutions such as energy management by 2025.

“Big companies are already using such solutions and they are trying to be autonomous, to produce as much as they consume,” said Chebbo, mentioning that for other companies there will be a lot of services available on the internet - e.g. applications that can be downloaded to help manage energy properly in factories etc.

However, digitalisation also brings fears related to cyber security. “Between 60 to over 80% of utilities fear a cyber security attack,” said Chebbo, explaining that this was the reason why the company GE, for which he also works, has made acquisitions, built a new service solution for cyber security, and has about 20 categories of tests that it performs when it implements a cyber security solution.

Additionally, a group was established in ESMIG focusing on security and cyber security, which represents the group in the European cyber security organisation.

“We know that the fear is real and we have to make sure that there is almost zero risk. This is why all the digital platforms include cyber security tools. But there are plenty of different systems, and energy companies are not using just one device or provider,” said Chebbo.

According to Chebbo, cyber security can benefit a lot from blockchain. “Blockchain is a technology that can automate transactions in a distributed way, and can test and control transactions at acceptable and lower costs, and this brings a lot of use cases,” explained Chebbo.

These use cases are being defined in the reports of the European Technology and Information Platform Smart Networks for Energy Transition (ETIP SNET), a committee created by the European Commission focused on the future of energy transition and smart grids. Chebbo is chairing a ETIP SNET group on digital energy, whose subgroup will issue a paper on cyber security which will also include categories related to blockchain.

Chebbo also noted that digital technologies can bring a lot of value - USD 1.3 trillion for industry, and over USD 2 trillion for society.

A lot of utilities are therefore considering whether they should “do the digital side themselves or whether they should outsource it to a third party”.

“From what I see, a lot of utilities would like to produce their own (digital; author’s note) capabilities. At the beginning they partner up with another company and use certain platforms, however, their goal is to become digital players as much as possible. This is not easy,” said Chebbo, noting that the utility industry is not flexible and responsive to change. Additionally, some of the utilities are suffering because of the phasing-out of nuclear due to its cost, as well as due to the cost of maintaining existing conventional generation.

“In Europe there were also many years of investments in unbundling. After this, the deadline for which was July 2007, the utilities needed to also start investing in smarter technologies. They needed to deploy smart meters, which means billions in investments,” mentioned Chebbo.

Additionally, utilities are being hit as grid usage is declining, and with time the grid will provide less and less revenues. Therefore, some utilities - Chebbo mentioned an example of a joint venture between the Irish utility ESB and Vodafone - are turning to fibre optics.

“It is necessary to be extremely visionary and experienced to take the right strategy,” said Chebbo.

As for blockchain, Chebbo thinks that after its testing, which is taking place now, a massive deployment of use cases could be seen everywhere.

“There are companies today that only make acquisitions either in business intelligence data science or blockchain,” added Chebbo.



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