I Think Opinions

The energy transition Is not going fast enough

By Marco C. Janssen, UTInnovation, the Netherlands

Most change processes cause resistance and a healthy debate, however, when the debate is concluded, and a majority is formed, let’s go on with it.

The energy transition is in full swing with the massive pickup in domestic rooftop solar PV, electric vehicles sales, heat pump deployments, battery storage installation, etc. Politicians, public advocacy groups and commercial companies increasingly push for larger amounts of renewables and although this overall can be seen as a positive move towards a more sustainable society, we are starting to witness the flipside of this development as utilities increasingly report serious bottlenecks in their distribution and transmission networks, leading to a slowdown in the energy transition. 

One can wonder why this is occurring as utilities could have anticipated that the increase in prosumers and the shift in load profiles due to electric vehicles would lead to a need for infrastructure upgrades. This relatively sudden increase in congestions is leading to public debates on whether utilities have been too cautious or simply neglected their responsibility to provide a reliable and cost-effective energy supply even if the energy transition fundamentally changes the way we use the electric infrastructure.

Of course, the answer is not as black and white as one may hope or expect. On the one hand there appears to be a case to criticize utilities for not proactively investing in the upgrade of the infrastructure as the transition is a process that has been going on for years, but at the same time one must understand that utilities face numerous hurdles when it comes to infrastructure enhancements. To mention a few. 

The legal process to obtain the permits for grid extensions and upgrades in many countries takes several years. The amount of money required for the transition is projected to be about USD 5.8 trillion annually from 2023 to 2030 for 48 developing economies studied, equals 19% of their GDP as stated by UNCTAD and where does the required financing for this project comes from?  

There are supply chain issues as there are not enough suppliers of infrastructure components nor is there enough raw material to cover the worldwide annual requirements linked to the energy transition, hence there is a need to prioritize, as well as anticipate long lead times and cost implications. 

Last but not least, even though public opinion is in general positive regarding the need for the energy transition, there is still a fair amount of Not in My BackYard (NIMBY) behavior on a local level, which more than once results in delays or even cancellation of project deployments.

These are just a few of the hurdles that the energy transition is facing. As a result, we see more and more debates on whether we need to slow down the deployment of renewables, what to do with battery and other storage solutions, whether to allow customer curtailment, what to do with time of use tariffs, and so on. And although all these items may be valid in their particular context, I think that there is no other way than forward if we still want to reach our climate goals. 

As a recent article in the Irish Examiner stated, the world needs to cut carbon intensity seven times faster to limit warming to 1.5°C. If this is true, it means that if we are serious about trying to save our planet and secure our future, we better start moving faster now. 

I strongly believe that it is time for the higher-level priorities to take precedence and for the large groups of individuals that on the one hand support the concept that we need to save the planet yet at the same time refuse to support the measures required to do so are no longer given the opportunity to frustrate the progress of the energy transition.

Most change processes cause resistance and a healthy debate on how, when, and where to realize the energy transition is always appreciated. However, once the debate is concluded and a majority is formed regarding the way forward then the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few. 

So, let’s get on with it…


Marco C. Janssen is the CEO of UTInnovation and the former VP of Operational Excellence at TAQA, Digital Grid Leader for Latin America at EY and Director of the Smart Grid PMO at DEWA. He received his BSc degree in Electrical Engineering from the Polytechnic in Arnhem, Netherlands and has worked for over 33 years in the field of Power and Water O&M, Digital Transformation, Protection, AMI and Distribution and Substation Automation. He was a member of IEC TC57 WG 10, 17, 18, 19, the IEEE PES PSRC and CIGRE B5 and D2 WGs. He was the convenor of D2.35 and editor of the Quality Assurance Program for the Testing Subcommittee of the UCA International Users Group. He holds one patent, is the author of the book titled “Recreating the Power Grid”, has authored more than 53 papers, is co-author of 4 Cigre Technical Brochures and 2 books on SmartGrids and Electrical Power Substations Engineering and is the author of the “I Think” column in the PAC World magazine.