Energy in 21st century cities
Article

Energy in 21st century cities

Erik Roscam Abbing
  • Erik Roscam Abbing
  • Director

Livework’s involvement in the energy sector has shifted in recent years. From redesigning traditional energy provider customer journeys like moving house or changing energy plans, to more innovative work. In 2019 we help energy companies cater to demands for electric mobility, local autonomous grids and renewable energy sources. This brings some major service innovation challenges:

Demand-based to supply-based

Traditional fossil fuel-based energy companies can adjust their supply by simply increasing or decreasing production. But as energy production becomes more decentralised, and relies more on volatile and unpredictable sources like wind and sun, the situation becomes more complicated. When supply can’t keep up with demand, stored energy or auxiliary sources are needed. When demand can’t keep up with supply, surplus energy needs to be stored, efficiently and safely. Just ‘selling’ locally generated surplus energy back to the net is a poor solution, because it doesn’t motivate supply-based behaviour, e.g. using more energy when more is available (washing clothes when the sun shines) and less when it’s not. It pushes the problem away to some centralised net operator, who then faces the problem of storing huge surpluses of megawatts at high costs.

We see huge opportunities in new business models and service ecosystems that motivate energy-efficient behaviour, from producers and consumers, whether they’re businesses or private citizens.

Energy transition radically affects how cities are built and governed, and how citizens interact with technology, government, and businesses.

Green energy transition in older buildings

Cooking and heating in Dutch homes is most commonly done with natural gas. But problems with earthquakes caused by mining and the carbon footprint of fossil fuels have set in motion a campaign to move the Netherlands toward renewable energy. This is fine for new homes, where infrastructure is adapted to this paradigm shift, but households in older buildings face huge costs to adapt their homes. It’s still unclear how this shift will be financed and when it will take place. The so-called ‘power to gas’ is one possible solution, where energy from renewable sources like sun, wind, and tides is stored in gas form. This would enable households to keep using their ‘old’ natural gas infrastructure but with environmentally friendly gas, also solving the issue of storing surplus solar energy.

We see huge opportunities in new business models and service ecosystems that motivate energyefficient behaviour.

Transitioning the role of energy companies

In this more sustainable future, energy companies are not just producers and distributors, but intermediaries between producers and users, where private households and companies can play both roles. This rearrangement opens up the market for new players who are good at playing platform roles and have access to large groups of customers. Will you get an energy discount from Google if you allow their ads through your smart home system?

Electric mobility

From an energy perspective, the electric car is a possible solution for decentralised energy storage. Every electric vehicle has a battery, and taken together, a city’s electric cars form a smart, mobile power grid, that just might offer a solution to green energy surplus on windy, sunny days.

Download full paper here: