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Nicole Alley
Feb 23, 2024

Welcome to Capgemini’s ‘Future of’ series, in which we explore the challenges facing global energy and utilities businesses today and the opportunities these challenges create.

In this first instalment Nicole Alley, Vice President, Renewables Segment Head, unpacks the early-stage hurdles standing in the way of faster growth in the renewable energy sector.

The demand for renewable energy capacity is seeing increasing momentum, as countries across the globe, including the UK, accelerate attempts to strengthen energy security and create an industrial value chain with local green jobs.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), wind and solar will account for more than 90% of global electricity expansion in the next five years and will overtake coal to become the world’s largest source of electricity by early 2025. It’s expected the world will install 2,400 GW of new renewables capacity, which is as much solar and wind energy in half a decade as has been installed worldwide, to date. In the UK, a record 40% of electricity came from renewable energy sources in 2022.

In order to balance the intermittent renewable energy on the grid, the National Infrastructure Commission says the UK must add 30 TWh of flexible generation capacity – including hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) – by 2035. It also recommends 60 GW of flexible capacity, for example, interconnectors, battery storage, and demand side response mechanisms.

To meet the UK’s net zero objectives, we need to tackle the slowdown of renewables investment with increased certainty of projects via acceleration of project timeframes, increasing the speed of and simplifying connections processes, and continuing the delivery of enhanced grid infrastructure.

Speed and prioritisation of connections

One critical aspect of accelerating renewables projects is prioritisation. It takes an average 6-10 years to gain consent for a new connection and according to Ofgem there are currently 500 GW in the queue. That’s more than £200bn worth of projects, calculated by the BBC.

Because the system operates on a “first come, first served” basis, a study commissioned by Centrica revealed there are many investments that could drive up the UK’s energy transition and energy security, being blocked by ‘phantom’ power projects for which developers do not have the money, planning permission, or land rights.

Receiving a positive reception, Ofgem is tackling prioritisation with a recent rule change, granting National Grid ESO the power to terminate projects that are not progressing against its specific milestones, including proof of funding or planning permission from as early as 2024. Ofgem says this change will release over 100GW of capacity from the current queue – equivalent to around a quarter of the electricity needed to power our economy in 2050.

Grid infrastructure investment

Grid infrastructure is also seriously lagging behind what is required to reach net zero, according to the IEA. The organisation warned that investment in global electricity grid needs to increase to more than $600 billion a year by 2030 if we have any hope of meeting international climate targets or supporting energy security.

According to its Electricity Grids and Secure Energy Transitions report, reaching those goals means adding or refurbishing a total of 80+ million kilometres of grids by 2040. That’s the equivalent of the entire existing global grid.

In the UK specifically, the IEA’s analysis of existing power grids and predicted demand shows that more than 600,000km of electric lines need to be added or upgraded within the next 17 years. That’s 100km of electric cabling rolled out every day until 2040.

In response, National Grid has laid out plans to increase investment in the UK’s electricity grid – promising £54billion of investment towards upgrading the electricity network so that it can accommodate the growth coming from the UK’s offshore wind industry.

What’s the solution for energy and utilities businesses?

There are robust, proven, and mature solutions in place in various parts of the energy and utilities sector, as well as adjacent industries, that can be leveraged by the renewable energy sector to drive benefits across planning and financing stages. There are opportunities to leverage digital technologies and data to improve visibility and reduce timeframes in the consent and consultation processes, in securing and maintaining funding, and in processing new requests to secure connections. Each should be integrated across the enterprise, and with a focus on quality data to enable better decision making.

  1. Process digitisation and workflow automation to increase visibility

There is an untapped opportunity to digitise all steps of the connections process from enquiry to application, review, update, and approval. The current process has limited visibility, many back-and-forth communications and significant human intervention. Optimising the end-to-end connections process, improving speed in decision making via reducing manual data entry and re-keying of information, and automating requests and approvals where criteria are met would enable simplification and acceleration of new connections (we are talking years not months or weeks). As projects head into the development and construction phase, this visibility could be extended, and a seamless experience provided to developers and stakeholders.

Integrated stakeholder management embedded in the model provides all relevant parties the ability to participate and align on use cases with regulatory controls built into the model. We see this at a regional level in a number of geographies with various DNOs where for example, stakeholders engaged in new connections have full visibility of the process. The Netherlands has a working example of optimising stakeholder engagement for the whole city of Amsterdam across multiple participants in the transport sector with water, rail, and road providers. A working model that could be applied to stakeholders across renewables projects in a central fashion, at a national level in the planning and financing phase.

  1. Model-based data and analytics platforms for data-driven decision making

Data and analytics platforms are not new. There is however significant potential to leverage model-based platforms with geospatial positioning to drive a structured, insight driven, automated approach to planning phase activities of renewables projects, for example in site selection, environmental impact analysis, commercial modelling and yield prediction. This would improve certainty of projects, reducing human error and increasing productivity of stakeholder, commercial and environmental teams.

Digital twins are one such option for modelised delivery tracking the “as designed” vs “as built”, identifying any deviations in planning applications vs the specifications for seamless handover to owner-operators. Setting this up in the planning phase moving into development and construction is worth considering. The Nuclear sector is, for example, leveraging digital twin solutions across facilities to improve safety, comply with regulatory controls and improve license compliance. Using location-based services allows all stakeholders to make decisions together in the context of these models.

The opportunity exists to leverage the UK’s emerging national digital twin programme for new renewables projects. This could support more accurate program scheduling, and therefore the opportunity to be prioritised for a connection, as well as of course supporting delivery.

  1. Advanced technologies to increase accuracy and transparency

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have the potential to enhance stakeholders’ engagement in a project through immersive technologies. We can create realistic simulations of functional and physical domains to enable communities to visualise and explore the impact of a new wind or solar project, in turn improving transparency and understanding.

We need to make highly complex data-rich simulations more intuitive. This is being done for power generation and processing in Europe for modifications and upgrades removing the need to travel to site, at an individual or fleet level. This enables the future of remote operations, in a dispersed ecosystem that can be carried through to development, construction, and operations and maintenance.

There are many use cases for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). In planning new renewables projects, we can use AI/ML to augment the teams responsible for complex calculations, driving more accurate yield predictions and enabling new levels of productivity to drive project scaling and acceleration. The opportunity to cater for subtle trend monitoring, and event combinations offers potential. Augmenting decision making in air traffic control is a mature example of the possibility of AI/ML technologies, where highly complex scenario modelling is undertaken. If we can increase investor confidence in the early stages, there is the potential to speed up projects.

Solving the serious problems facing energy transition requires a significant level of market collaboration – drawing in multiple parties from across the sector. Addressing these challenges in an efficient, scalable way means embracing digital by design and taking an iterative approach to the steps above, with a business and technology transformation partner entrenched in the energy and utilities sector.

Get in touch with Nicole Alley or connect on Linkedin to start the conversation today.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of our Future of Renewables series, in which we’ll explore the challenges and opportunities of the development and construction phase.

Nicole Alley

Vice President | Head of Renewables & Smart Water Lead Energy Transition & Utilities | Capgemini UK
Nicole is responsible for leading Capgemini’s Renewables business in the UK&I across business development, marketing, customer satisfaction and delivery success. Renewables encompasses Capgemini’s capabilities and clients in renewable energy (developers, operators and equipment suppliers) and climate tech (hydrogen and gigafactories). Nicole is passionate about decarbonising our planet, driving our sustainability agenda at a personal and corporate level. She has experience across Energy Distribution, Energy Retail, Power Generation, Water, and Mining. Nicole is a trusted advisor to clients including Ausgrid, Essential Energy, APA Group, Snowy Hydro, Newcrest Mining and Rio Tinto. In addition, Nicole has been involved in developing the Australian version of the Newtonian Shift Energy Transition game for Ausgrid and the Australian market.