What will it really take to decarbonize the global economy?

As companies across industries push towards net-zero, one thing is certain: to reach their targets, new utilities partnerships, ecosystems and marketplaces will be essential. Utility companies can support practical enterprise sustainability by increasing the amount of clean, renewable energy in the grid, enabling rapid and cost-effective electrification of industries, and moving from managing the grid to orchestrating all its complex inputs. In the coming years, utilities will continue to play a central role in the energy transition by accelerating global decarbonization through clean electrification – the process of replacing fossil fuels with electricity produced from renewable sources, like wind, solar and hydro.

How clean electrification can accelerate decarbonization

The good news is that about 70% of today’s global greenhouse gas emissions can be addressed by clean electrification. High-emitting sectors, like power generation and transportation, are investing heavily in in the process. US automakers, for example, committed to invest $250B in vehicle electrification by 2023. And despite the pandemic, 2020 was a record year for green energy, with more than 80% of all new electricity capacity coming from renewable sources.

But, enabling clean electrification at scale for consumers and businesses will require leaders to come together in new ways to rethink how electrical systems operate. As more parts of our global economy rely on electricity to run, electricity ecosystems will become more complex and diversified. The number and scale of non-utility owned-and-operated resources connected to the grid will increase exponentially. And more interconnected functions will generate increasingly complex information flows.

Digital transformation is key

Going forward, digital transformation will be key to decarbonization and helping electricity ecosystems deliver clean energy to connected consumers in safe and reliable ways. Digital solutions that apply AI, IoT and blockchain will support new energy marketplaces, while enabling more resilient physical infrastructure, more efficient and reliable utility operations, and better customer service. For example:

  • Utility asset management solutions can help keep critical assets running at optimal efficiency, improve equipment operations, provide a complete view of asset health, mitigate the high cost of vegetation management, enhance outage predication, and optimize asset inventory.
  • Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) solutions can help utilities adapt to changing customer demand, including wide-spread distributed energy and increased adoption of electric vehicles. The next generation of utility networks include AMI powered by Edge computing over 5G networks with scalable, elastic IoT cloud capabilities. This enables advanced streaming analytics to digest and process usage data and millions of messages to assess grid conditions in real-time. These advances in data analytics, AI and communications help accelerate grid modernization to create new areas of value for utility operations and transform the customer experience.
  • Utility customer management solutions can enable a digital-first approach to customer service by providing omnichannel touch points with AI-powered virtual assistants (chatbots) and analytics-driven processes, so customer service representatives can focus on higher-value interactions.

Here are a few examples of how utility companies and their ecosystem partners are teaming up with IBM to fuel the future more sustainably:

Grid Resilience and Operational Excellence

Hydro One: When severe storms disrupt electricity service, customers expect power to be restored quickly. Hydro One, one of North America’s largest utility companies, shifted from reacting to weather-induced power interruptions to proactively preparing for storms using The Weather Company’s Outage Prediction solution. Outage Prediction helps the utility predict the impact of future storms by combining a customer’s historical outage data with past weather events and engineered weather forecasts. Now, it can proactively prepare for incoming weather by mobilizing personnel and equipment in advance of storms – in some cases cutting power restoration time in half.

Distributed Energy

Omega Energia: Wind and solar energy will account for more than 55% of the world’s electricity by 2050, making renewable energy forecasts increasingly critical. Fully committed to sustainability, Brazil’s renewable energy leader, Omega Energia, and IBM collaborated to build a cost-effective, scalable, cloud-based wind forecasting platform. High-accuracy forecasts using best-in-class weather data and advanced analytics, including AI and machine learning, are powering benefits in maintenance planning, generation forecasting, and strategic planning to help Omega meet growing demand and deliver service reliably – today, next month and for years to come.

Flexible Energy

Andel and the City of Copenhagen: To achieve its goal of becoming the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025, the City of Copenhagen partnered with IBM and Andel, Denmark’s largest utility, to reimagine energy consumption. Together, they developed the Utility Flexibility Platform, which dynamically adjusts heat and power consumption based on renewable energy supply, and engages consumers to help with load balancing. The solution allows high-volume consumers – like building owners, companies, real estate firms, shopping malls and supermarkets – to opt to uses less or make their own ventilation, cooling and freezing facilities available to the grid when supply is low. By leveraging buildings’ flexibility, Andel avoids relying on fossil-fueled, reserve power plants to meet demand and thereby avoids the plants’ associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Mobile Energy

TenneT and Equigy: As Europe pursues a wide-scale energy transition to renewables, smaller and more distributed providers are joining the grid, introducing volatility. TenneT, a leading electricity transmission systems operator (TSO), needed a new way to control the volatility in a highly weather-dependent electricity system. Using IBM Blockchain, leading European TSOs launched the Equigy platform to crowd-balance supply. The ecosystem’s joint effort with blockchain can better integrate renewables into the grid to help securely and intelligently manage flows of electricity in networks with decentralized, distributed energy sources. The reduction of power redispatch measures could save millions of euros as the crowd-balancing network expands.

We’re ready to partner with you for a sustainable future

Wherever you are on your sustainability journey, IBM can help. With our deep domain and industry expertise, we can work with you to develop and implement the right strategies, operating models, intelligent workflows and technology innovation to achieve your sustainability goals.

To learn more about decarbonization, sustainable energy and clean electrification – and find out how recent government measures could spark a reinvention of the power grid – read “Electricity is infrastructure: Why the grid matters more than ever.

You can also learn more about IBM sustainability solutions, and read the other blogs in our enterprise sustainability series:

Explore Think 2021 for more on sustainability

Think 2021 is IBM’s online-only, free conference. Register then use this guide to find sessions like these two events focused on IBM’s commitment to the environment, as well as a conversation on the big trends and directions:

CUBE Interview with Kareem Yusuf, PhD, IBM General Manager and Wayne S. Balta, IBM Chief Sustainability Officer. Tune in to this interview to learn more about IBM’s history of commitment to the environment, our vision for a more sustainable future, and how we’ll help clients achieve their sustainability goals.

Trends & Directions: Empowering a resilient, sustainable future: Sustainability is a business imperative. Climate change, dwindling natural resources, and other hazards are disrupting business in unexpected ways, compelling organizations to transform the way they operate. Join us to learn how to tackle the most important challenges to your business with AI-powered solutions, intelligent automated workflows and open platforms to accelerate your journey to a resilient, sustainable future.

Was this article helpful?

More from Energy and Utilities

The different types of renewable energy 

5 min read - Renewable energy, also known as clean energy, is produced from natural resources that are generated and replenished faster than they are consumed—such as the sun, water and wind. Most renewable energy sources produce zero carbon emissions and minimal air pollutants. Fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) on the other hand, are finite resources and release harmful greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), including carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, when burned. They are widely considered to be the main causes of climate…

What is vegetation management? 

4 min read - When North America suffered its largest blackout, it cost upwards of USD 6 billion  and left 50 million people without power for up to two days. What caused the blackout? Overgrown trees that came into contact with a power line.   Beyond causing blackouts, overgrown vegetation can also cause soil erosion and water quality problems, disrupting both our economy and the environment.  Vegetation management aims to mitigate these risks. But what exactly does vegetation management mean? It involves promoting desirable, stable…

10 ways the oil and gas industry can leverage digital twin technology

5 min read - The oil and gas industries have been the backbone of the global economy for decades. However, market volatility, environmental concerns and operational inefficiencies have also challenged these industries to adapt and innovate. The use of digital twins is one such innovation. In the era of digital transformation, digital twins are emerging as a potent solution to energy production challenges. Digital twin technology, an advancement stemming from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), is reshaping the oil and gas landscape by…

IBM Newsletters

Get our newsletters and topic updates that deliver the latest thought leadership and insights on emerging trends.
Subscribe now More newsletters