The advent of IT and the World Wide Web revolutionised every corner of society and the global economy with the empowerment and freedom it has offered consumers, and today a similar kind of revolution is underway in the energy sector. Just as online platforms, social networks and blogs have enabled consumers to create, customise and share content, the growing convergence of innovative technologies with the energy sector is offering consumers the tools to measure and monitor their energy use, improve efficiency in the home and office and even produce, use and share their own energy, affording them greater freedom and flexibility over their energy consumption.
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However despite these technological advances, the uptake of new energy technologies has remained sluggish and erratic at best. What's stopping mass adoption?
According to a recent survey, despite the fact that 92 per cent of UK consumers are convinced that more people will be unable to pay their bills and fall into fuel poverty if nothing is done to improve energy-efficiency in the future, the perceived high costs of energy-efficient technology is stopping them in their tracks.
Of the 2,000 consumers surveyed, 63 per cent said that costs and other financial considerations were holding them back from making energy-efficiency improvements in the home and renters do not feel that this would be worth their while. The choice of technologies available is also too overwhelming for 21 per cent of people and, drilling down into the financial barriers, the top concern for 35 per cent of consumers was a lack of disposable income to invest in energy-efficiency and a reluctance to borrow money and get into debt - an understandable concern in today's debt-ridden climate.
Despite these hurdles, the energy revolution is gathering speed. Rising fuel prices, coupled with increasing world energy demand, are of major concern for governments across the globe, which have come to realise that our current energy model is not sustainable and that change needs to happen fast. This change will need to be driven through by government, via regulations, taxes and incentives to adopt more energy-efficient practices both in new builds and for renovation projects, and by consumers and businesses who will continue to demand greater control over their energy usage, in order to improve the efficiency of their homes and buildings.
The good news is that the cost of energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies is falling. The price of solar panels has come down significantly over the past few years and LED lighting today is relatively inexpensive to buy and can reap a return on investment in one to two years, making it an attractive investment for both homeowners and renters alike. The opportunities for forward-thinking companies developing new technologies that are easy-to-understand, easy-to-use and make investment sense for end-users, are vast.
The final hurdle is the current energy infrastructure, which will have to be dramatically overhauled to facilitate this energy transformation. Here again, technological innovations will play a major role in developing sustainable solutions for the production, transmission and storage of energy.
Updating the UK's ageing infrastructure
In the UK, to improve the efficiency of the built environment and public services, necessitates a major transformation of our ageing grid. The UK's cumbersome centralised model of production and transportation of energy are responsible for power outages and blackouts, raising concerns around the increasing difficulty in coping with peaks in demand. Substantial and long-term investment is needed to make our grids 'smarter', in order to better respond to fluctuations in demand.
Over the next few years, breakthroughs in energy storage capabilities will also improve the way we manage energy and will be of the utmost importance for integrating renewable energy sources into electricity grids. One type of energy storage technology that has made notable improvements over the past decade is the electric vehicle (EV) battery.
What does the future hold?
There is a mutual understanding amongst consumers, businesses, industries and governments that to ensure a sustainable energy future, the need to make changes to our current energy model is not only inevitable but has become critical for ensuring a sustainable future.
Advances in energy sector technologies are producing smarter, more intuitive and more user-friendly products and software, yet, despite these exciting developments we still have a long way to go in transforming our current energy model to make it more accessible and more efficient for everyone.
The next few years will be crucial in turning understanding into action and local, national and international investment in infrastructure and innovative technologies will be central to this revolution.
Brian Smithers is the strategic development director at Rexel UK