Renewable energy and informatics (energy informatics)
Recently, I had the pleasure of opening the workshop on Integration of Renewables in the Energy Systems organized by UiO: Energy and the Department of informatics at UiO. The future energy systems have to build on knowledge development within many areas and interdisciplinary actions between these areas are necessary to build the next generation efficient and user-friendly energy systems. Computer science, or informatics, will play an important role in this development, hence we see the emergence of energy informatics. The University of Oslo want to become an important player within this important area, hence conducting research and providing education for the workforce of tomorrow on the highest possible international level.
Access to energy
Everyone understands the importance of access to energy, either you live in a rich country like Norway or on the countryside in one of the world poorest countries Malavi. Access to energy is essential to bring more people out of poverty. Access to energy is essential to feed a growing population. Access to energy is important to prevent conflicts and war. Access to energy is equally important for cooling air as it is for heating. Access to energy is important for moving goods, services and people. And, I could continue to express the importance of access to energy for constructive development of the society in almost all aspects of what we do and live for!
From fossil fuels to renewables, as fast as possible
The extensive use of energy from fossil resources has created and will create major climate changes. In a few weeks I am going to the Amazonas to attend a conference on climate changes and the effect these changes have on the rain forest it self and the living conditions in these regions. Everything is connected to everything, and how we integrate renewable energy into the energy system is closely linked to what is going on in the Amazonas and the future of the rain forest. We have to move from the world´s extensive use of fossil fuels to renewables, and we have to do it fast.
Many things have to be done to obtain a world that is not dependent on fossil fuels. One of these important topics has to do with the construction of the energy systems systems that capture energy from production sites and feed the consumers with energy. It also has to do with efficient energy consumption. The future energy systems must be reconstructed to handle production from a variety of renewable sources. Moreover, the future energy systems have to be more flexible compared to what we have today. Cost efficient energy storage and balancing production from a variety of energy sources are typical key questions? Computer science, or informatics, will play an important role in answering these questions.
Education is important to foster the right actions
Future sustainable development requires extended and efficient production of renewable energy, efficient storage and distribution of renewable energy, and more clever use of these energy resources. In order to find the best possible solutions to these challenges, research and higher education is of crucial importance. Education is particularly important, not only at university level, but also in primary school. Clever use of energy has to do with our individual actions, hence what we do in our daily life. The right actions with respect to energy consumption require more knowledge about energy and the energy system in the whole population. We have to start in primary school!
A broad and strongly interdisciplinary task
Professor Louis Francois Pau from Copenhagen Business School gave an introductory talk at the workshop mention above. He listed a number of key areas for research and education necessary to handle the energy challenges for the next decades:
- power electronics, specific requirement with respect to introducing renewables
- material sciences (physics/chemistry) for energy production and storage, including data storage
- communication – the new role of the communication infrastructure with respect to energy distribution and real time resilience
- information technology, e.g. control functionality and virtualization
- economics and project management
- legal regulations and international agreements
It is fairly easy to see that interdisciplinary actions are important and that people from a variety of disciplines have to interact to solve one of the largest challenges we are facing today.
Informatics in energy systems – energy informatics
The solution to the future energy systems is truly an interdisciplinary effort. In this picture someone has picked up the term energy informatics. Informatics, or computer science, is the study of construction and use of computer systems. I am not going into detail on what a computer system is here, however a computer system today is much more than just a stand-alone piece of software running on a computer. A computer system is, to put it simple, a complex digital system consisting of software and hardware running over many computers connected through some kind of network. The biggest and most important of these networks, or grids as we also can call them, is the Internet.
Energy production, energy storage, energy distribution and energy use also rely on networks, either the energy is transported by pipelines, road, railroad or boats – or distributed through electricity grids. Energy systems have used computer systems (or ICT systems) for decades. One of the driving forces in the on going amalgamation between energy and informatics is the similarity between the two grids – the energy grids and the grid called Internet.
The next generation energy systems will heavily rely on solutions developed in the realm of computer science, in particular in the area of distributed systems development. Likewise, we will see that energy grids more and more will serve as channels for handling data/information and pipelines for communication, hence becoming a part of the Internet. Energy informatics is an emerging new interdisciplinary area for research, education and innovation and I believe an area that will answer important global challenges in the coming decades, e.g. answering the following question: How do we construct the next generation intelligent and robust energy systems that feed the world with renewable energy?
A research and innovation program
The challenges addressed here are well taken care of by EU and Horizon2020, however, we do not see any strong drive in this direction from the Norwegian Government, the Research Council of Norway or Innovation Norway. We believe that energy informatics (and related topics) will be fundamental in future innovations and very important to secure profitable jobs in a world that fairly soon has to build its activities entirely on the use of renewable energy.
Norway, as a country rich on renewable energy, with high competence on existing energy systems, and strong computer science competence can play an important role on the international scene. In order to do this we need a large research and innovation program, and I suggest that the Research Council of Norway and Innovation Norway constructs one large research and innovation program on energy systems with a huge informatics component. And finally, do not forget that the project supported by such a program has to be closely linked to education.