For the 60th RECAI Report, EY Explores the Tension Between Energy Security and Quest for Net Zero

Climate change is real and represents many imminent dangers, so smart companies are keeping a close watch on both Energy Security and Net Zero Emissions for best practice. 

In 2022, the global CO2 concentration reached 417.2 parts per million, making it the highest single year total in recorded human history. Furthermore, the human population is expected to cross over 10 billion by 2050, which will only create more of a growing demand for energy and natural resources than there already is, accelerating the speed at which climate change wreaks havoc on our planet. 

This fact of climate change has spurred many countries around the world to begin turning to renewable energy resources. According to the 60th edition of the Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI) report, “Governments around the world are accelerating their renewables programs to help reduce their reliance on imported energy, as geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainty continue to make this a volatile and unpredictable time.”

The report found that among the countries around the globe, the U.S, China, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Australia were the top five countries in terms of RECAI score. These countries all are currently succeeding in renewable efforts, such as cheap green-hydrogen from the U.S, and and a record 156GW of wind and solar power from China. 

However, the report pointed out that to rapidly integrate more renewables and improve grid flexibility, organizations and countries would have to collaborate to make decentralized energy systems and smart grids a true reality. Both these technologies, while posing challenges in implementation, would provide countries with better electrical grid efficiency, as well as the ability to leverage more renewable resources in the quest to achieve net zero.

Decentralization has been talked about for decades but, as markets seek to rapidly integrate more renewables and improve grid flexibility, real progress is finally being made. 

“The global transition from centralized grid networks to decentralized distributed energy systems is accelerating,” the report states. “From microgrids, small-scale renewables, and combined heat and power facilities, to distributed energy storage and controllable loads, a plethora of options is emerging.”

Distributed energy resources (DERs) are among the primary aspects driving the rapid growth of decentralized energy systems. These can provide enhanced energy resilience, energy security, and increased grid flexibility, allowing markets to adapt quickly, and recover swiftly from market disruptions. This is because Excess electricity generated by self-sustaining distributed systems can be stored and used when centralized grids are hit by outages, meaning DERs can be vital in helping counter the high number of grid failures caused by the extreme weather phenomenon in recent years.

As for smart grids, these can help create a more sophisticated energy storage that can deal with the intermittent nature of renewable resources. Through enhanced communication capabilities that allows for two-way communications instead of the one way flow provided by traditional grids, smart grids can  enable real time data collection concerning electricity supply and demand during the transmission and distribution process. This helps make monitoring, generation, consumption and maintenance more efficient, allowing operators to more quickly see, respond to, and solve electrical issues. 

“Equipped with robust data flows, they offer improved reliability, efficiency and flexibility — from smart meters that allow consumers to monitor their electricity usage, to automation that can isolate local faults so they don’t shut down an entire network,” the report finds. 

“Indeed, smart grid technology is creating a new energy distribution model in markets without established national grids, whereby the overall grid is composed of microgrids that can switch to operating independently. This provides greater resilience for isolated rural areas, as well as for highly concentrated urban areas where brownouts or blackouts can result from surges in demand.”

Unfortunately, as perfect of a scenario as all this sounds, the report further mentions possible obstacles that could stand in the way of the creation of a smart grid and decentralized energy systems. The most notable of problems the report states are related to the strength of cybersecurity that would be protecting such systems.

For example, monitoring is a main issue, due to the hurdles involving log generation. The devices tend to be similar in both configuration and design, which unfortunately means they are exposed to accelerated lateral movement or attack vectors when under siege from would-be cybercriminals. And, with so many devices using one hard-coded password, all it takes in one successful attack, and a tremendous number of devices can be taken over within seconds.

The report also covers energy security issues that arise from how the internet of things (IoT) poses a significant cybersecurity issue smart grid. 

Critical equipment – ranging from power plants and electricity grids to pipelines and cloud systems – is susceptible to cyber-attack. Protecting it is only going to become more challenging as new technology relies increasingly on connectivity to the Internet of Things (IoT) and the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT),” the report states. “Use of IoT devices, such as smart meters, increases the potential attack surface area, and additional problems are posed because many of these devices do not have full operating systems and are poorly configured, sometimes with hard-coded passwords. With these devices being typically inexpensive, they are often forgotten about, remaining connected, but not managed”

Nonetheless, issues like energy security and achieving net zero emissions will have to be solved, and fast, as the ever accelerating climate change of our planet forces the human race to dive deeper into renewable resources. Smart grids and decentralized energy systems hold the potential to allow humans to finally get out from under the hold that non-renewable resources, such as oil and gas, have had since the start of the industrial revolution. By making these technologies a reality, the world can begin the process of healing, creating a better planet for everyone to reside on.

Juhi Fadia

Hello, I am Juhi! I hail from Ahmedabad, a heritage city in India. Writing is my passion. I am experienced in the field of Information Technology, including software, hardware, cloud, applications, real-time communications, the Internet of Things, and more. I offer research, writing, and editing services. I graduated with an Instrumentation and Control Engineer degree, but my fascination with writing pushed me to pursue journalism and marketing as my career. Covering various domains and writing about global innovation, entrepreneurship, and growth trends constantly inspire me. I have traveled abroad and have covered several industry events, and have had the honor to work with leaders and their teams to help tell their stories. Besides writing, I am a very socio-friendly person and love hanging out with friends and meeting new people. I love everything about food and yet manage to stay fit. Yoga has been my supreme interest, which makes me physically and mentally stronger.

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