Editor’s Pick | IRENA investigates future market enabling technologies

This article was originally published on 30 September 2019 in Energy:2030.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published an Enabling Technologies: Innovation Landscape report in early September, highlighting innovations in emerging technologies.

The report builds on an extensive report called Innovation Landscape for a Renewable-powered Future: Solutions to Integrate Variable Renewables, published in February. This analysed the innovation landscape for variable renewable energy integration and mapped and categorised solutions.

The technologies explored in the second, September report are utility-scale batteries, behind-the-meter (BTM) batteries, electric vehicle (EV) smart charging, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, and blockchain.

Utility-scale batteries

The report said that front-of-the-meter (FTM), or utility-scale, batteries offer huge potential in balancing the grid and have been increasing in prominence. Despite this, barriers still exist. Initial investment costs are falling but remain relatively high. Greater recognition of the value of energy storage through regulatory frameworks is also still required and ensuring knowledge dissemination through pilot projects is key.

IRENA estimates that global utility-scale battery capacity could account for more than 100GWh in 2030, compared to the 11GWh at present.

Behind-the-meter batteries

BTM batteries are expected to grow rapidly along with solar PV. Future growth, however, is subject to upfront costs. IRENA suggests that reducing “soft costs” such as interconnection, permitting and development, would significantly reduce the upfront costs of BTM. This could be achieved by reducing the process time for interconnection and permitting, which creates greater costs for storage developers and customers.

Currently, Germany stands as a front-runner with approximately 100,000 solar PV and BTM storage systems implemented as of summer 2018 – this figure is anticipated to double by next year.

Figure 1 illustrates different scenarios for the adoption of battery storage by 2030, with the “Doubling” bar referring to the scenario in which stationary battery storage increases in response to the requirement to double renewables in the global energy system by 2030.

EV smart charging

Smart charging has created a means of avoiding additional strains on the grid associated with a rising uptake in electric vehicles (EVs). Through adapting the charging cycle of an EV to reflect the status of the power system whilst also matching the needs of the vehicle users, smart charging can tackle grid constraints at the same time as enabling the transition to zero emission vehicles.

As EV uptake increases, the potential of this technology also becomes greater. IRENA analysis anticipates sharp growth in EVs in a Paris Agreement-aligned scenario, with 157mn in around 2030 and around 14TWh of over 1bn EVs by 2050 (see Figure 2).

This growth will need to be facilitated through a greater optimised and widespread charging system.


IoT is becoming an increasingly important concept as systems continue to be integrated and co-ordinated. Smarter devices are communicating, monitoring and interpreting data to make informed real-time decisions. Renewable energy generation forecasts can be created, control of power plants can be automated, and the maintenance of grid stability and reliability can be better controlled.

The technology is also influencing habits at a local level in homes. Demand-side management is being automated through smart EV charging points and meters and through connected boilers and thermostats.

Online statistics portal operator Statista estimates connection of around 75bn devices to the internet by 2025. For this to happen, devices will need to be reliably and effectively automated, as well as offering local interfaces to allow for consumer override if necessary. Data privacy and cybersecurity protocols will also need to become established, both nationally and internationally.

AI and big data

Artificial intelligence has a powerful ability to interpret data to reason, plan and ‘machine learn’. These properties become invaluable in the processing of large datasets, or ‘big data’, which hold real value in better understanding and managing systems.

Along with IoT, it can allow for vastly improved forecasting systems and better maintenance of grid stability. It can also optimise the use of storage assets such as FTM and BTM batteries, increasing the viability of their adoption.

In order to develop, the technology will need time. It will become more precise in forecasting as the availability and quality of data improves. Setting up data sharing standards could further accelerate this process and see artificial intelligence assist in all aspects of the energy market.

By 2025, it is estimated that 463 exabytes of data will be created each day.


Blockchain could act as a huge enabler of decentralised energy for connected distributed energy resources and grid-interactive devices. It provides the ability to securely record individual transactions taking place across the network. This provides much needed security and privacy in an energy landscape focused around data. The potential for this to be achieved without a third-party intermediary to validate transactions is where true value lies.

Peer-to-peer trading could be facilitated on a national scale, and renewable energy certificates could be awarded in real time as power is generated.

Despite this, the overall regulatory environment that exists for blockchain remains uncertain. There are some exemplars though, with the likes of ELECTRIFY – Singapore’s first retail electricity marketplace – raising more than USD$30mn (£24mn) in March 2017 to build a platform that allows consumers to browse and purchase electricity from a range of providers.

As of 2018, over 46% of blockchain energy start-ups are concentrated in Europe. In April 2018, 22 European countries signed a declaration on the establishment of a European Blockchain Partnership, which is designed to act as a vehicle for cooperation in preparation for the launch of EU-wide blockchain applications.

This is a good companion volume to the February report, which is full of useful information. But the regulatory environment must become more responsive to enable advancements in the new and innovative technologies covered by this report of the bullish forecasts are to be realised.


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Energy:2030 is a monthly publication covering relevant and interesting developments including:

  • market mechanisms and regulatory incentives
  • technological developments and their anticipated impact
  • changing policy as it evolves both in the UK and worldwide.

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