The importance of a resilient energy transition
Modern society has been built around a foundation of abundant and affordable grid-supplied energy, generated primarily from fossil fuels. That foundation is shifting in complex ways.
- Ageing infrastructure and increasing extreme weather events make supply more vulnerable.
- Policies focused on decarbonization are forcing a transition to renewables.
- The intermittent nature of these sources is generating greater need for storage.
- Distributed systems are adding complexity to a previously centralized system, blurring the line between end users and grid operators.
The spectrum of events challenging resilience is also changing. Extreme climatic events such as tornados, dry weather fires and flooding not only exercise our energy systems, but also those systems and societal strength on which secure energy provision depends. Increased reliance on digititalisation introduces new risks of inadvertent or intentional events such as a cyber attack.
As boundaries between energy, mobility, water and digitalisation are increasingly intertwined, changes in one part of the system can have rippling and unexpected impacts for many sectors of society. The scope of this change will be larger than anything the energy sector has ever experienced. with huge shifts expected in system infrastructure, operation and regulation.
“The potential for a cleaner, greener and more responsive energy system is real. But through the transition, so is the potential for disruptive outages, stranded assets and overburdened communities. Creating a system which can be relied upon to meet the daily needs of the households, businesses, services and government, while simultaneously changing, is fundamental.”
Caroline Field, Energy Sector Lead, The Resilience Shift
Resilience is key to enabling the energy transition
The transition to a low carbon energy system is essential in the effort to battle climate change. It can also be seen as a disruptive event, creating both threats and opportunities as changes are implemented. Transitioning the energy sector should be viewed through a resilience lens in order to mitigate disruptions and maximize value.
Supply and delivery of energy across our built environment is evolving. Over-provision and substantial redundancy is being replaced by finetuned, dynamic and highly interactive approach as we journey towards reduced emissions, minimised costs and increased certainty.
Energy demand is no longer a passive end- point in a chain of energy supply – it is a dynamic, interactive part of an increasingly complex, interdependent and interactive whole system. Boundaries between energy, mobility, water and digitalisation are increasingly blurred. Commercial, technical and human interactions mean that the impact from an event in one sphere rapidly and often automatically cascades to the others, then feeds back to further stress the first.
Regulatory and commercial models are rightly pushing new boundaries in the quest for ever higher value but moving from the ‘tried and tested’ can also attract unintended resilience consequences. Ironically, as our energy systems are becoming increasingly automated, the human factors on which they are founded become more important. This includes strategic leadership and direction, clarity of vision, avoidance of groupthink, training, stakeholder engagement and strong governance.
Work to date includes a resilience primer capturing best practice for the electric utilities sector from industry interviews, and insights from research workshops and the global EARTH EX resilience exercise to use simulated real-time scenarios to test out systemic resilience with multi-sector stakeholders. Other work has looked at the cross sector implications for ports as they transform, along with all their stakeholder communities including energy, to become low carbon resilient gateways.
The Resilience Shift Energy Study
As part of this study in 2020, we performed desk-based research to set out the key facts and figures around energy, future energy, resilience challenges, and key actors. We conducted key informant interviews to understand current state of practice, discussing key challenges and how these vary globally. We also wanted to understand current initiatives in the sector and where we can partner to add value.
Five participants at our event on cross-sector resilience for utilities, in early 2020, spoke at the reception afterwards on their take away from the session, in particular on the relationship between the different utilities' challenges and interdependencies.
Celebrating best practice for resilience, Wood and The Resilience Shift launch the Resilience Realized Awards and Showcase. It will share inspiring examples of resilient infrastructure and the pioneering teams behind them who chose to do things differently. The Awards open for entry on 1 November 2021.