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Doubling Grid Capacity Without Laying a Single Cable: Neara's Digital Revolution

January 10, 2024 Tom Raftery / Taco Engelaar Season 1 Episode 152
Doubling Grid Capacity Without Laying a Single Cable: Neara's Digital Revolution
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Climate Confident
Doubling Grid Capacity Without Laying a Single Cable: Neara's Digital Revolution
Jan 10, 2024 Season 1 Episode 152
Tom Raftery / Taco Engelaar

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In the latest episode of Climate Confident, I have an insightful conversation with Taco Engelaar, Senior Vice President at Neara, about the critical role of digitalisation in the energy sector. Taco highlights how Neara's software creates digital twins of electricity grids, allowing for more efficient management and capacity analysis.

We delve into the complexities of expanding grid infrastructure to support the increasing influx of renewable energy sources. Taco offers a detailed analysis of how digital modelling can enhance existing grid capabilities, potentially doubling capacity without the need for physical expansion—a significant step towards meeting our net-zero targets.

The discussion also covers the potential of interconnected and smart grids to improve energy distribution and address the intermittency challenges of renewable sources. Taco shares practical examples of how Neara's technology is being used to predict and manage grid performance under various environmental stressors, such as storms and floods.

Tune in to gain a deeper understanding of the intersection between technology and sustainability, and how strategic digitalisation within the grid infrastructure is pivotal to achieving a resilient and sustainable energy future.

And don't forget to check out the video version of this episode on YouTube

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Podcast supporters
I'd like to sincerely thank this podcast's amazing supporters:

  • Lorcan Sheehan
  • Hal Good
  • Jerry Sweeney
  • Andreas Werner
  • Devaang Bhatt
  • Stephen Carroll
  • Marcel Roquette
  • Roger Arnold

And remember you too can Support the Podcast - it is really easy and hugely important as it will enable me to continue to create more excellent Climate Confident episodes like this one.

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If you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover the show.

Credits
Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send me a message

In the latest episode of Climate Confident, I have an insightful conversation with Taco Engelaar, Senior Vice President at Neara, about the critical role of digitalisation in the energy sector. Taco highlights how Neara's software creates digital twins of electricity grids, allowing for more efficient management and capacity analysis.

We delve into the complexities of expanding grid infrastructure to support the increasing influx of renewable energy sources. Taco offers a detailed analysis of how digital modelling can enhance existing grid capabilities, potentially doubling capacity without the need for physical expansion—a significant step towards meeting our net-zero targets.

The discussion also covers the potential of interconnected and smart grids to improve energy distribution and address the intermittency challenges of renewable sources. Taco shares practical examples of how Neara's technology is being used to predict and manage grid performance under various environmental stressors, such as storms and floods.

Tune in to gain a deeper understanding of the intersection between technology and sustainability, and how strategic digitalisation within the grid infrastructure is pivotal to achieving a resilient and sustainable energy future.

And don't forget to check out the video version of this episode on YouTube

What If? So What?
We discover what’s possible with digital and make it real in your business

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

Support the Show.

Podcast supporters
I'd like to sincerely thank this podcast's amazing supporters:

  • Lorcan Sheehan
  • Hal Good
  • Jerry Sweeney
  • Andreas Werner
  • Devaang Bhatt
  • Stephen Carroll
  • Marcel Roquette
  • Roger Arnold

And remember you too can Support the Podcast - it is really easy and hugely important as it will enable me to continue to create more excellent Climate Confident episodes like this one.

Contact
If you have any comments/suggestions or questions for the podcast - get in touch via direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn.

If you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover the show.

Credits
Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

Taco Engelaar:

In the UK alone, we're looking at about 200 projects and about 600 gigawatts worth of renewable energy being in queue at the moment. And the waiting times for these projects to be developed or being allowed onto the grid can run into 15 years. Now thinking that we've got 2030 Net Zero requirements and goals in place, obviously the current strategy will not allow us to actually meet those targets.

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast, the number one podcast showcasing best practices in climate emission reductions and removals, and I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi everyone. Welcome to episode 152 of the Climate Confident podcast. My name is Tom Raftery. And before we kick off today's show, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude to all of our amazing supporters. Your support has been instrumental in keeping this podcast going, and I'm really grateful for each and every one of you. If you're not already a supporter, I'd like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like minded individuals who are passionate about climate. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable, with options starting as low as just 3 euros or dollars, which is less than the cost of a cup of coffee, and your support will make a huge difference in keeping this show going strong. To become a supporter, simply click on the support link in the show notes of this or any episode, or visit tinyurl. com slash climatepod. Now, without further ado, with me on the show today, I've my special guest, Taco. Taco, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Taco Engelaar:

I would thank you very much, sir. Hello everyone. My name is Taco Engelaar. I'm Senior Vice President at Neara. And glad to be here today to speak a little more about what we do in the world of the energy transition.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And juvenile question Taco, but Taco . Tell me a little bit about how you ended up with the name Taco and, I mean, I can't, I can't be the first person to have asked you about this.

Taco Engelaar:

No, you're not. And funny enough, I've even lived in Mexico, so the question there was obviously perhaps even more appropriate. But yeah, it, it's a Dutch name, funny enough, which not a lot of people would realize considering the connotation with with a beautiful dish. So yeah, for all the Dutch listeners out there, hopefully this wouldn't be too funny for you, but yeah, Dutch name.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Fair enough. Fair enough. Okay, and talk to me about Neara, you're SVP in Neara and we're talking about the energy transition. Who or what are Neara?

Taco Engelaar:

Yeah. Thank you for that. So Neara is actually a software company. We focus on specifically modeling the electricity grid. We were founded about seven years ago now in Australia, where we've got a good portion of the market in hand in terms of working with local distribution network operators and transmission network operators, i.e. The companies managing and owning the electricity grid. And what we do essentially with these companies is looking at digitizing the real world assets in an environment that we would call a digital network model or a digital twin. And we would use those models to simulate analyze and report on the performance the structure, the capacity of the grid. And since a few years, we're also active in the US and myself, I'm personally responsible for the European market, which we expanded to last year. Obviously there's a lot to say about the electricity grids. A lot happening at the moment, specifically in light of the energy transition. So we're having a lot of conversations with our clients, but also with governments around how we can help facilitate and speed up the transition through using digital modeling, AI and more generally technologies, I guess, that would normally not be used in a very yeah, analog world.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Yeah. Grids tend to be a bit analog, but how, how can technology help with expanding grids? Well, I guess first of all, why is it necessary? Wh why are we thinking about expanding the grid? Aren't there enough assets on the grid already? And then how can software help with that if we do indeed need to expand it?

Taco Engelaar:

I think the best way to put it is that a recent report from the International Energy Agency that just came out, I think probably two weeks ago, stated the importance of the grid in relationship to the energy transition, specifically in allowing for you know, not necessarily just the flow of electricity, but the flow of renewable energy. So at the moment globally, there's a, a huge amount of renewable energy projects in queue. So basically, not given permission to be built because there wouldn't be space and capacity on the grid. And within probably the last few months, you know, the, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Climate Change Committee, the IE report that just came out have really highlighted the urgency around changing this. So the report recently stated that we probably need to double the, the current infrastructure that we have to another 80 million kilometers. So imagine that globally, all the electricity grids combined are about 80 million kilometers long, and we would need to double that to be able to facilitate the additional energy being used by consumers and being generated obviously on the other end of that. So to highlight and look at that from an existing network perspective, that means that there's probably a hundred or 50% capacity constraint at the moment to be able to facilitate that. So the importance of the grid is hugely relevant. It's very timely. I guess current weather conditions all around the world are stressing that even more so by looking at the effect of yeah, of the climate crisis that we're currently in. And, and pushing the sort of efforts around the grid more and more because if we don't actually have a spot for all these new technologies to, to, to be adopted onto be it, if it's it's hydrogen, you know, it will take time to get hydrogen into place. Phasing out fossil fuels generally will take time. So we need to actually have the grid ready and available. And I think the current grids quite clearly can't fully cope with what we need to sort of look at in terms of renewable energy to really look at the energy transition. To meet the energy transition timely. I mean, we'll get there eventually, right? But these processes are very lengthy. So looking at, you know, the actual permissions, the construction that needs to take place the approvals from a government perspective for these renewable energy projects to, to be developed. All of that potentially could be sped up to some extent. You know, even if looking at qualified workers or people out into the field to be able to do and execute these projects. There's so many different factors involved that yeah, that there needs to be a different way of looking at the grid more generally. In the meantime while we also look at expanding it, which, which is also very much a requirement.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And how will, or just to clarify, when you say 80 million kilometers, we're talking primarily about, you know, wires, essentially

Taco Engelaar:

Exactly. Yeah. Very simply put wires and poles. Exactly. Moving the electrons from one end to the other, from the generation side to the, to the consumer or to yeah, an industrial area, for example.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah. And we, we need to expand that because we're moving from a type of generation that is primarily centralized with large thermal plants to decentralized generation, to, you know, smaller solar farms, wind farms, et cetera. So there's a lot more of those rather than one big thermal plant.

Taco Engelaar:

Absolutely. And there's, and there's a huge risk of imbalance within the network as well, right? Because renewable energy sources that we're looking at to replace fossil fuel, for example, are more irregular, less predictable because that obviously depends on wind conditions or solar conditions or, water flows, for example, hydro flows, although those are probably more easily predictable. So what that means is that energy is less available, differently available, sporadically u p and down, meaning that the peak on both the consumer side, so on the demand side and on the generation side might not meet each other. And that means that obviously there needs to be storage, right? So battery storage, long-term storage, whatever the the possibilities are there. There needs to be a focus on the consumer side. So can they actually contribute to the grid in their own micro kind of way, right, in their own microcosmos? So for example, in your neighborhood, is there storage available? Are you contributing back from your car once you've actually charged it? Or any electricity that you are not using, can that come back onto the grid as well? So it's not just the way that we're using electricity and energy. It's also the flow of energy going back and forth rather than just generation and consuming it on between you, you and me, for example, as consumers. But it actually is also looking at pushing that back onto the grid. So. There's a lot changing. And that means that the grid needs to be able to cope with that. And I think looking at those very simply put wires and poles, there's a lot of unknowns there, right? So across different countries and regions, the infrastructure is aging. There's a lot of unknowns in where certain assets are. What they're made of. And, and just getting that right is very important to understand what the actual capacity is of a grid or how they would respond in certain different circumstances.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And how is technology helping us there?

Taco Engelaar:

I, I think in a few ways. One for example, what Neara is doing is that we help our clients, which is either government or it's the network operators and owners understand, first of all as a baseline where higher assets, right. And that sounds really silly, but looking at some of the countries that we're dealing with and the networks that we're dealing with. We're looking at hundreds and thousands of kilometers worth of network. So that's, that's these conductors and the poles that we were referring to. And these were built either post-war or, you know, quite, quite second World War. Sorry, I have to clarify that one. So these, these could be quite old networks and not really understanding where some of these elements are is obviously a very important starting point. So capturing data, and that could be done through several different ways that we can jump into as well. Understanding where those assets are and how they actually relate to the performance, I think is sort of a first step. And then the second step within that digital environment, once you've got an understanding of where those assets are, can you create a digital model where you can start running simulations, engineering grade analysis. Understanding the performance and, and the network capacity, for example is other ways of, of being able to do that.

Tom Raftery:

Okay.

Taco Engelaar:

So for me, I guess, yeah, sorry. To recap, I would say baseline would be understanding where those assets are, digitizing that environment, and then obviously running simulations, reporting, and understanding how you can do that and, and looking at how you would normally do that manually. That's impossible across hundreds and thousands of kilometers, right? That means that people would have to do manual calculations, have to send in hundreds of thousands of peoples into the field. It, it's relatively impossible without doing that, using technology and AI and sophisticated engineering models that we we're currently building and focusing on.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and how are they helping? I mean, it's one thing that a utility company or a government knows what the assets are, but for help in expanding the grid? How, how are you helping there? I mean, I, I can see how knowing where everything is, is, is, you know, creates a good baseline. But is it for planning purposes? Is it for resiliency purposes? Is it for something else? You know, where, what, what, what's the, the, the, the, the add?

Taco Engelaar:

Yeah. Again, a few ways. One is looking at connecting generation sources, for example. So if you want to connect new renewable energy sources to the grid. It's really important to understand the location and the topography because that determines how the flow of energy optimizes. So the better the location, the more efficient the flow of energy and the less obviously, loss of energy you have as well. So that could make one difference for example, understanding where your assets are. The other element I would say is hugely important is the capacity within the network. So the longer the energy has to travel, obviously less efficiency. But also understanding the topography and the nature and the aspects of the assets will tell you exactly how much occurrence or how much flow, or how much electricity can actually run through your network. And I think that's probably hugely important. I think a lot of the companies and clients that we deal with currently are quite conservative because they don't fully understand where those assets are or what the, what these assets are. And that might sound surprising, but they might have an idea, but over the last, you know, 50, 60, 70 years, these assets have been replaced. It's not always been recorded accurately. So they might not understand specifically which conductor or which element of the grid is in place in a certain area, and that might prevent you from safely, assuming how much energy can actually run through that network. So for governments or for these network operators to understand not only the location, but specifically the type of assets that we're dealing with. We'll tell them in a very informed manner and at a very large scale and at a very detailed level how much electricity could actually flow through these networks. And to step back on that a little bit obviously because of safety reasons and because of precaution these network operators are quite, hesitant to allow for more energy to run through these networks because these networks need to operate safely, obviously. And running more electricity through these lines means that they warm up. And that could mean that, for example, they become more proximate to surrounding buildings, people, roads, or vegetation, which potentially could cause for example, wildfires. So, they are obviously, you know, taking their, their role as network operator very seriously and the safety there is hugely important. So what we're trying to help our clients with as well is to safely assume within a digital environment by running different simulations and different scenarios to understand what the behaviors of those assets, if you would run more electricity through them, and whether or not you could safely assume that that indeed you know, stays within the parameters of regulation and general safety for the public as well.

Tom Raftery:

So could this then mean that grids could expand? For, for want of a better way of putting it without expanding, as in you could run more electricity through the grid without necessarily having to build out more grid

Taco Engelaar:

Yeah, we definitely think so. And you know, the, the, the technology is not only here, it, it's already been validated as well and that's why we're quite enthusiastic to obviously share this story, on this platform as well. We've done, two major sort of undertakings in this place. One in Australia with one of our clients called Essential Energy, large DNO covering about 160,000 kilometers worth of network. I think, if I remember correctly, 1.1 million connected customers. And we've had a full digital representation of their network for other purposes. But what we're actually doing with them is also looking at to what temperature, or what flow, or what electricity could you actually increase without, you know, going over any sort of safety restrictions and clearance restrictions that are set for these networks. And we were able to actually identify that they could increase the temperature on the line with about 15 degrees Celsius. So without going into too much technical detail, the rating of a line refers to the temperature of the line. In this case they were running and a lot of the these network operators will, will stick to this parameter of around 50 degrees Celsius because if it heats up more, that means that the cables start moving and sagging. So that means that they, like I mentioned before, come closer to either vegetation or buildings and, and become potentially a hazard for for the environment. So what we were able to actually say is that even increasing the temperatures and increasing the electricity flows through the existing network, you would still be within the bounds of, of the safe. And by increasing the line temperature to 65 degrees we were actually able to say that they could double their network capacity. So, funny enough, this does not work linearly. So it's not like you go from 50 degrees to a hundred degrees and that's doubling your network capacity. So by actually increasing the temperature just slightly you can already run a lot more electricity through the network because obviously there's environmental factors we can model as well, right? Which is sort of wind conditions, for example, ambient temperature et cetera, et cetera. So keeping that in mind, doubling your network capacity is obviously hugely impactful. Thinking of what we just spoke about in terms of the IEA report doubling the network another 80 million kilometers, the amount of money that would cost, but also the time and investment generally that it would require looking at, and obviously this is only one example with one client, doubling the network capacity without any additional investment. We think that the impact across the globe can be quite quite big in that sense. And we've repeated this with a different setting I would say. So we work with an engineering company in the US called Impact. They had a lot of data related to the grid in Texas. So we looked at Texas as a state and what we were able to, again, in a very similar fashion, we're able to say, although be it on a different continent and a different setting we were able to say that they could probably double their network capacity as well for probably about 95% of, of the existing network. So we would obviously be keen to, you know, test the parameters further in the, in this element. And, and there's a lot of policies that might need to be changed because regulation perhaps needs to be adapted as well. And there's all elements that we need to look at. But essentially this allows for immediate opening up and acceleration of more renewable energy onto the grid. In the UK alone, we're looking at about 200 projects and about 600 gigawatts worth of renewable energy being in queue at the moment. And the waiting times for these projects to be developed or being allowed onto the grid can run into 15 years. Now thinking that we've got 2030 Net Zero requirements and goals in place, obviously the current strategy will not allow us to actually meet those targets. So I think one of the strategies that we need to adopt as well is looking into the existing grids. The latent capacity that's there and how do we then adopt and accelerate the flow of renewable energy and these projects that can actually already be connected currently and as we speak without additional investments. So yeah, those are sort of the additional angles that we've been looking at as Neara as well.

Tom Raftery:

And so I'm guessing this is why, I mean, you, you mentioned you've been operating in Australia and the US you're now expanding into Europe, and this is why you're now heading up the the European arm. Is that, is that a fair assessment?

Taco Engelaar:

Yeah, not necessarily necessarily on the back of this case. I mean, we're, we're covering things like resilience for example, as well. Obviously changing weather conditions will require a stronger and more resilient network just as much. People still like their lights and the heating on at night. So we need to make sure that the network is able to cope with these new weather conditions and there's a lot of demand for our platform currently to, to cover you know, the, not just network capacity, but but resilience, as well. So from that perspective, we're currently focusing on the European market and interestingly, there's a lot of digitization efforts happening in the European Union generally. So there's a I guess a region wide initiative focusing on National Grid specifically around the topic of speeding up the, the energy transition, but also looking at more, I guess, geo challenges when it comes to changing away from Russian gas, for example. So there's a lot of pressure on, on the European electricity grid in that sense. But yeah, we just generally see themes similar across, be it in Australia, be it in the US, be it in in Europe. So the demand for our platform doesn't really change per region. It's more around, we think that there's a significant market and improvement that we could make in speeding up and actually meeting some of these net zero targets as well.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And talk to me a little bit about the resilience aspect, because I mean, you, you've explained the, the latent quite well, but the resilience one, talk to me a little bit more about how you're helping with that.

Taco Engelaar:

Yeah, sure. So, very simply put, once we've created digital network model or that digital twin what we're able to do is a few things. One is we can actually simulate different environmental conditions, so that could be heavy winds. We've quite recently had Storm Ciaran, obviously here in Europe, which had significant damage to the electricity networks and, and, and other infrastructure as well in France, in the UK in Belgium. And these storms are becoming more prevalent. We've just had Storm Babette a month earlier. We've had Storm Arwin previously in the UK, leaving thousands of people potentially without you know, electricity because of forced outages. And then the, the conditions that these severe weather yeah, instances create. So what we're trying to do is actually stress test the network within our platform by using simulation and finite element analysis. Very complicated, complex engineering. And the analytics that we run using basically every single component of those assets to understand how they behave under different conditions. And like I said, that could be wind, that could be ice, that could be understanding the push and pull within the network as well, that wind can create. And another element of what we are doing with clients as well is looking at floods, for example. So not only is it in relationship to floods, understanding where your assets are uh, and what happens to those assets in a flood. But that comes back to the baseline. If you don't know exactly where your assets are, you don't know which elements of the network you might need to do at de-energize or protect or strengthen. So we try to help our clients as well to understand which areas of their network are prevalent to, to floods, and if there is a flood, how can you actually act as quickly as possible? And again, the client use case that we've had, and there's, there's a few, we've got some in the US and, and some in Europe and some in in, in Australia as well is that when there is a flood and, you know, usually rivers or certain water bodies will always flow out in, in a similar pattern. How do you behave? What normally happens on the network operator side is that they de-energize the network because it's quite dangerous for obviously the conductors to get in touch with the water. So that means that immediately an entire region could be without energy. But by modeling the flood or by having actual live weather data, for example, and where the flood is taking place, we could actually very accurately indicate, okay, these parts of the network need to be de-energized from a very safe environment without sending people into the field because you have that on a digital model. ANd then also when the water does subside, you could actually say very quickly, okay, now we can reconnect these customers in these areas as well. So we were able to look at a process that would normally take two to three weeks to actually, you know, in, in one or two days to re-energize, and, and get people back connected on onto the grid. So, yeah, like I said, there's a few ways of doing that within the platform. We're looking at wildfires, both in Australia and the US as well. So again, how, how does that relate to one vegetation? So how much vegetation is close to your lines, and is there a potential of creating a spark or potential wildfires based on, on that proximity of the vegetation which is a more spatial environment, but also then if there is a fire, what do you do in terms of protecting those assets and understanding which areas and which connected customers might be impacted in that sense? So yeah, there's a, there's a myriad of things that we do in that sense. I would say one is very much within the platform, which is those simulations from an assets level and, and how do they respond to it. And then the other element is bringing in the external components, so the vegetation, understanding where floods are and understanding where wildfires might actually take place. And then to make sure that the, the, the teams, and the network operators understand how they can safely respond and act on these. Yeah, quite terrible instances, obviously.

Tom Raftery:

Cool. We're seeing a huge uptick in interest in and announcements around the likes of AI at the moment, is that having any impact on you guys as well?

Taco Engelaar:

I think so, I think the impact is very much from an investor's perspective. I think if you're currently a software provider and if there's not really any focus on AI or if you're not using it to optimize your processes or to run your processes, then I think investors tend to sort of step away from it. But I think what AI is allowing us to do is obviously automate and facilitate certain processes that otherwise would have to be done manually and would be very time consuming. And in this case we could do it probably more accurately and, and at a great speed. So AI is helping us one to run simulations and analytics, but also in a, in a much more basic level to build the network model. So to build the digital twins. Again you know, dealing with hundreds and thousands of kilometers worth of network for some of our clients, that means that the process has to be speedy. Otherwise, we're just, you know, a, a, a huge team manually putting a digital twin together, which is impossible. So we're using different data sources to automate that and marry those different data sources, and then based on that information run our algorithms to actually fully automate it, run the digital network models and to create these digital network network models as well. So for us it's, it's hugely beneficial. And mostly to, to make our lives easier and to actually get the insights that our clients require much faster without taking a year or two to actually build these digital network models.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. You, you've given one or two, customer examples or client examples. Are there any more that you wanna highlight? Any big success stories that you wanna talk about?

Taco Engelaar:

Good question. I think one that I'm extremely excited about currently is more on the government side. So we're looking to test this first within Australia where we've got about 75% of the actual grid modeled on Neara. And when I say 75%, I mean in the actual length of kilometers. And for the state of New South Wales, this is actually 99%. And we're currently looking at, at a government level how to optimize the deployment of renewable energy zones, for example. And that obviously looks into not only the location of building and you know, setting up these assets, but also what does that actually mean in terms of the capacity generally for the rest of the network. How do you optimize the flow between generation, demand and consumer? So we're trying to become more integrated rather than just focusing on those poles and wires as you refer to perhaps. So yeah, for me that, that's really exciting. That's something that's currently in the make and hopefully we'll be able to report on that very soon. Specifically, 'cause again, I think it would be a, a very relevant use case if we could test that in a smaller environment in Australia and then scale that up to national levels, be it in, in the EU, in the UK or for example, in the US or other areas of interest.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And where to next? What do you see, you know, happening for you guys in the next 3, 4, 5, 10 years? Let's, I mean, let's, let's go into 2030 anyway.

Taco Engelaar:

Yeah. Okay. Well this, this would be my sort of ideal world, right? I think what we see a lot is fantastic technology out there. A lot of desire to move very quickly. I think the ability to integrate these different technologies and to have them speak with each other, if you will, and to have the right sort of mindset and policy in place to be able to actually really generate value out of it I think would be very exciting. One of the examples I just mentioned is that we are looking to integrate whole of network, so that means understanding the demand side, i.e. on the consumer side, understanding the generation side and understanding what happens in the middle, in the transportation side. i.e. the sort of the movement of the electrons. And I think if you can start predicting how that happens on both sides. I think the flow of energy would be far more efficient, far easier and unfortunately at the moment it's quite difficult to marry, for example, the mechanical and engineering components, i.e. the structural elements of the assets with, for example, the electricity flow combined with the behavior and the flexibility that it might require. So. Combining and marrying all those different elements will require a lot of work and a lot of smart people unlike myself to actually start working on that. So I would see probably in, in a few years from now, we'll be able to work with partners in the field or have developed that ourselves to be able to see the full spectrum and the whole of network approach as, as some people might refer to really optimizing the flow of electricity and yeah, accelerating that energy transition as I mentioned before.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. I think from my perspective, the one of the big challenges that people always put forward about renewables is the fact that sun isn't always shining. Wind isn't always blowing, but that's patently false because the sun is always shining, you know, it doesn't turn off at nighttime. It just, it's shining somewhere else, and the wind is always blowing, just not always where you are at any point in time, but the wind is always blowing. So, to my mind, I think one way we can get over that is to have larger, more interconnected grids. So yes, the sun is, is, is shining now in Morocco, for example, I'm in the UK. Well, I'm not, I'm in Spain. But you know, I'm just hypothetically speaking, you know, can we move those electrons from Morocco to the UK? I mean, obviously we can, if we have a big cable, and in fact there is a project happening right now to do that, to build a two gigawatt solar plant in Morocco and have a large, well have two large cables transporting that electricity, that electricity to the UK. So larger, more interconnected grids to my mind are one way that we help with the energy transition and the second way is the kind of smart grid dream that everyone has been talking about for the last 20 years. You know, where you have supply, talking to demand and demand talking, or listening to supply and modifying behavior automatically in response to whether there is supply or not. And . You know, one tangible example that I can think of because I come from a data center background is data centers, for example, have generation. They have batteries, they have large grid connections, so they very easily could modify their behavior in response to demand signals. So if there is a, an uptick in demand on the grid, they could go off grid and just run from their generators or their batteries you know, either briefly or for some time, and you can scale that out to, at the consumer level, people with EVs or people with, you know, immersion water, electric immersion water heaters, or, I mean, those, to my mind, those are batteries as are fridge freezers, you know, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So all of these I, all of these devices, were they smart, which they're not today, but were they smart and listening to signals from the grid could modify their behavior and even be paid for doing so, paid for reducing their demand at times of peak demand, et cetera. Is that a pipe dream or ? Are those kind of things

Taco Engelaar:

No, I think, I think it's, I, I, I think it refers back to some of what I said at least around marrying the demand and the generation side and whatever happens in the grid in between, right? Be it the microgrid, be it your fridge be it battery storage in that sense. But to marry all these up is gonna be a massive undertake and a massive challenge. But yeah, one can definitely dream. And, and in reference to the interconnectors, I've seen a lot of interconnectors come up. Usually they're quite regionally focused rather than transcending, you know, the continents. Unfortunately, we're also in an environment of increased geopolitical tension where it becomes probably even more challenging to actually trust each other to, you know, build on each other's networks. I would love to see that. And I think, for example, a project like Sun Cable in Australia connecting into, into Asia for example, I think would be a really good test and I think we should definitely push on on realizing that and hopefully that would build trust in other places in the world as well. Be it between, you know, Africa and Europe in that sense, or be it between Europe and Africa and the US. But yeah, I would love to see some of those interconnecting projects actually scale up.'cause at the moment they're relatively small. They're also hugely complex. Obviously a lot of them are sub sea level. So they, they actually have to do a lot of construction work, which is, which is hugely complex. And then even just the flow of the different electricity networks between the countries and continents will, will, will require a lot more I guess engineering expertise as well. But yeah, no, I'm, I'm, I'm fully in agreement with you that these are very exciting developments. It's around policy one, I think allowing for these things to happen a little bit of, hopeful, dreaming around geopolitical tensions, reducing in the, in the world. And I think obviously finding the right skilled people as well and the investment behind it. So it needs to be economically viable and we need to have the people to be able to execute that. I think within now in 10 or 20 years, we should be able to really make strong moves. But in the interim, I think there's probably a few steps that we can make closer to home within our own sort of electricity networks and the latent capacity that we're dealing with. But yeah, I'm I'm dreaming along with you for sure.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And for listeners who might not be aware, the Sun Cable project you referred to is a project to build out, if I remember the numbers correctly. It's enormous to build out a 22 giga watt solar farm in the Northern Territories in Australia. Now, just to give some context for people who might not be aware, the typical output of a nuclear power plant is about one gigawatt. This is a 22 gigawatt solar farm, unprecedented in its size, backed up, if I remember correctly, by a 42 gigawatt, hour battery bank. So again. Off the scale in terms or off the charts in terms of the scale of the size of the project and the idea being that it would power the city of Darwin, but it would also to your point, draw cable north into Asia, power, the city of Singapore, the city state of Singapore, amongst others, who today, Singapore is powered 95% by fossil fuels, if I remember correctly. So that, that's the, that's the stated aim of the project. And how is that progressing right now because I haven't heard any news about the project for a while. But it's a, it is an extremely exciting project. Really ambitious.

Taco Engelaar:

Yeah, I'm not fully across the the latest, but I think at some stage it was sort of off the books, but now it's back on. So obviously the Australian government, I'm not Australian myself, but obviously through my colleagues in our head office I'm, I'm, I guess, relatively connected in terms of what's happening in the energy transition there. I, I think they're obviously looking at either feasibility, can it actually be built? Can it actually be done in an economically viable way? And does it make sense for us to do it or can we do other stuff as well that makes more sense. So I think it's back on the table. I hope it is. I think it's a fantastic project. As, as you say, completely off the charts, but I would love to see something like that actually happen. To create probably more trust in other regions being connected through projects like this. And just to get 22 gigawatts worth of solar in a country alone from one project is just mind blowing. I think the largest that we're currently looking at, which is in Abu Dhabi, is about two gigawatts. And they're looking at probably three or four by adding different sort of solar farms into that. But going from two gigawatts is the largest globally to, to 22 gigawatts in one place is, is yeah, quite a big leap and, and looking forward to that for sure.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah. Amazing. Amazing. Cool. We're coming towards the end of the podcast now, Taco, is there any question I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about?

Taco Engelaar:

I don't think so, actually. Not really.

Tom Raftery:

Fantastic. Great., well done. Tom Great. Super. So Taco, if people would like to know more about yourself or any of the things we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?

Taco Engelaar:

Yeah, I'm happy to share my my LinkedIn profile, for example. I think one of the elements that if people were to reach out directly is via email or via LinkedIn. So my name, I guess, can be shared while on the back of this, this podcast, and our website as well, obviously. So that's neara.com N E A R A .com.

Tom Raftery:

Perfect.

Taco Engelaar:

probably the two best ways and I'll share my LinkedIn profile as well so people can can get in touch directly.

Tom Raftery:

Superb. Superb, great Taco that's been really interesting. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.

Taco Engelaar:

Thank you for the great questions.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to tomraftery at outlook. com or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.

(Cont.) Doubling Grid Capacity Without Laying a Single Cable: Neara's Digital Revolution

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