Modern digital technologies have transformed how products and services are created, marketed, sold, delivered, and used. Almost every industry has benefited from advancements in digitalised data, analytics, artificial intelligence, and networking, among other digital innovations. These advancements even hold promise for speeding up the process of decarbonisation to protect our environment from the ravages of fossil fuel usage.
The energy sector has been applying various digital technologies since the 1970s in the areas of exploration, planning, and building of pipelines, development of transport systems, customer account management, and other vital areas of energy creation and distribution. But what does the future hold for digitalization in the energy sector and how will it affect the future of transportation?
What is Digitalisation All About?
When we speak of digitalisation in the energy sector, we’re really speaking of converting old, outdated manual ways of doing things to computer-assisted means of doing the same tasks, only with greater accuracy, speed, and results.
For example, there are now billions of internet-connected devices being used around the world, from smartphones to smart refrigerators, even smart cars. This surge of electronic device usage has had a major impact on the energy sector in terms of the amount of energy being consumed. Yet, because of the enormous amount of data being collected from the Internet of Things, engineers and scientists are better able to develop highly efficient means of creating and distributing the energy needed to run these smart devices.
Which Energy Systems are Benefiting from Digitalization?
The simple answer is all of them. Petroleum, coal, solar/wind/renewables, and even nuclear energy systems are all being made safer, more productive, and more efficient through digital innovations and data manipulation. It is estimated that the increased use of advanced sensors and analytics could ultimately lower the costs of energy production and distribution by over $80 billion per year within the next 30 years.
By employing digital drones and industrial robots, exploration of once uncharted territories too dangerous for humans is now being explored and exploited to the betterment of society. Utilization of 3D digital printing in manufacturing also promises to reduce energy usage, waste, and even cut CO2 emissions.
How Digitalization is Laying the Groundwork for Smart Infrastructure for Intelligent Cars
As societies advance into the realm of autonomous, or self-driving vehicles, this digitization will provide the data and networking capabilities to greatly streamline our current transportation systems. Consider the fairly recent adoption of the GPS (global positioning system).
This digital technology provides us with the shortest routes to almost any destination, at any time, even accounting for immediate obstacles like accidents, road construction, and other incidents that would otherwise keep us idling in traffic jams and thus wasting energy.3
The expansion of global connectivity means that new paradigms like ride-sharing, autonomous cars, electric vehicles, and smart roads are being quickly adopted, furthering the impact on our energy grid. These digital technologies will not only make transportation safer but also more energy-efficient.
Consider the case of “smart highways” that will glow from the light of the sun, reducing the need for electric street lights, or solar-powered electric vehicle lanes that will recharge cars while they are driving. Advanced digital sensors will display traffic signals only when vehicles are present, saving energy by shutting off when no one is around.
These technologies are currently being developed and will surely have a positive impact on energy efficiency, paving the way for even more advanced and smarter solutions such as solar-powered cars or green tyres.
And of course, the computerization of vehicles has made them far more fuel-efficient than cars and trucks of the past.
The Future of Digitalization and Caveats for Wise Adoption
A dependence upon digital systems does come with both limitless potential as well as increased vulnerability. As cyber terrorism threats grow worldwide, diligence in cybersecurity will be of utmost importance to protect our energy grid and transportation systems. There is no going back at this point, however, so ethical and wise governance will be paramount for a safe, prosperous digital future.