Digital technology is being called on to do more across the energy value chain, from tracking carbon credits and optimizing equipment to creating the grid of the future.

Whether it’s blockchain, generative AI or digital solutions for interoperability, collaboration is essential to creating value, Rebecca Hofmann, president and CEO of Blockchain For Energy, said during a March 18 session on digital technology in the energy value chain at CERAWeek by S&P Global.

Rebecca Hofmann
Rebecca Hofmann, president and CEO of Blockchain For Energy. (Source: Jennifer Pallanich/Hart Energy)

“Energy companies are realizing that collaboration is really the key now for value generation,” she said.

Blockchain is not for everything, but it can foster collaboration and establish a more secure environment for companies.

“Blockchain is for specific things where there are external transactions,” she said. “If you think about it, anything in a business has a ledger that you need to record what happened, and there's money associated with exchanging anything … this is just standard business now. We're automating that and we're bringing it to a new level of trust.”

The energy industry needs to lead the way in creating standards and best practices, she said.

“Technology is pushing the standards, which is good for us and it's good for the industry. So that's why blockchain can't be done alone,” Hofmann said.

Asset optimization

Gino Hernandez, head of digital for ABB Energy Industries, said customers want to get better at optimizing assets, particularly those involved in carbon intensity management and energy consumption.

Gino Hernandez
Gino Hernandez, head of digital for ABB Energy Industries at ABB. (Source: Jennifer Pallanich/Hart Energy)

Historically, if an asset was underperforming, a company might put it on a maintenance cycle based on assumptions of when it might have a critical impact.

New technologies now allow customers to know when assets are consuming more energy and increasing the company’s carbon footprint. In cases in which multiple assets are problematic, companies can make a business decision based on high energy consumption and high carbon intensity output, he said.

“Now because of this new vector of information coming to management, they have an opportunity to make a business decision that they didn't have before,” Hernandez said.

With the world’s increasing focus on decarbonization, ABB has increased its product offerings.

“What we're able to do is model the carbon atom from the point of creation, whether it be a refinery, whether it be a power plant through transportation—because you’ve got to keep it in an optimal state,” he said. “We can track and trace from that point of creation all the way to the point of being deposited into that final resting source.”

And blockchain tech provides trackability and auditing for the carbon, he said.

Scary and exciting

Hernandez said ABB see an opportunity to use generative AI to enhance customer experience, revenue streams and modernization of processes. Later this month, ABB is internally launching a generative AI bot for diagnosing asset failure and repair using natural language.

“You're able to ask the asset, ‘When was the last time you failed? When it failed last time, what did you do?’ And then most importantly, the operator can ask, ‘Well, how do I fix this?’” he said. “And it's a game changer.”

Another impact of gen AI is a 50% increase in productivity for software engineering, he said. The code is better, with fewer bugs, better documentation and more cybersecurity, he said. 

“We have hundreds of R&D engineers developing our software. If I could unlock 50% more capacity of that organization, that is huge,” he said.

Hofmann called generative AI “the scariest thing ever, and it's the most exciting thing ever.”

She said companies need to use AI in tandem with blockchain to keep things from spinning out of control.

“You need to have a blockchain that's sitting there, tracking and tracing everything you're feeding to that model—ensuring that you understand what's happening.”

Grid of the future

To Patrick Raab, head of business development and commercialization at Google X, the energy grid of today is a slow, one-way highway compared to the multilane superhighway of the future.

“We are witnessing an expanding value chain that is underpinned by a grid transformation,” he said.

The current grid is centralized and analog. 

“We're moving to the grid of the future, which is digital. It's dynamic, it's decentralized … a multi-directional superhighway,” he said.

He said transforming the energy grid is a story of co-optimization.

“The grid of the future does require some key transitional components, and a big part of that is the underlying architecture,” he said. “This architecture is going to have multiple layers. The layers involve levels of common reference frameworks, as well as the ability to understand open protocols, open data formats, as well as APIs.”

He said the combination of these components will allow interoperability and enabling trust and understanding of the data. 

Planning the grid of the future requires understanding all the different device interconnections, along with sensors and electronics on both the supply and demand side, he said.

“The grid of today has tremendous potential for additional capacity, but that requires us to be confident that we can operate that grid by co-optimizing supply and demand at the local levels, at the end customers,” Raab said.

But planning models need to take into account how to incorporate a dynamic grid while continuing to increase grid intelligence, Raab said. “We talk about a smart grid historically, but we're really entering a new era of intelligence and grid awareness.”

Digital solutions underpin that by providing analytical tools to process scenarios and studies, he said.

“Digital solutions are impacting both the underlying sensors and awareness of the future power system, but also on the analytical side so that we can be confident in our decision making and to move forward with this transformation,” he said.