Two things were clear to the industry specialists, customers, and partners in attendance at the 8th SAP Utilities Conference in Mannheim, Germany: A new age has long since begun in the energy industry, and utility companies are the most important protagonists in the energy revolution that has also swept up many related industries and consumers.
“There’s never been a more exciting time to be working with the utilities industry,” declared Klaus Heimann, senior vice president of service industries at SAP. Over the course of the three-day event, experts held presentations, roundtable discussions, and live demos – and of course, had many informal conversations – on how the future of the energy industry should be shaped. “We’re going to have to be very creative and come up with common solutions,” Heimann went on to say.
The event also opened with a speech by former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. He described the question of how to ensure a stable, sustainable supply of energy as one that countries and companies can no longer answer on their own. “We’ve never been more dependent on one another,” Fischer stated, citing more than just the consequences of the current nuclear disaster in Japan.
Those seeking to avert a worldwide energy crisis must turn their focus to China in particular, Fischer said, predicting that the country will eventually be forced into a “green future.” He also expressed his belief that the global energy industry will be based “on neither coal nor nuclear power” by the middle of this century.
The one-time legislator called upon the industry representatives in attendance to “take the lead in solving the energy problems of the 21st century,” citing the “huge opportunities” open to companies on the path to a sustainable energy industry. Fischer touched on the necessity of software and other high-tech components to increase our efficiency, store energy, and develop smart grids and stated the importance of the industry’s efforts to actively drive the expansion of e-mobility. He made this development conditional, however, upon the use of renewable sources of energy.
Meanwhile, Fischer added that “the future of e-mobility will be decided in Asia and California” in light of the dynamism in these markets. The member of the green political party in Germany, Alliance ’90/The Greens, was visibly proud and happy that “nuclear energy has no future in Germany,” and went on to state that other countries now must seize the same opportunity. Otherwise, Fischer said, we run the risk of seeing more and more countries leverage the peaceful use of atomic energy as a pretext for becoming nuclear military powers. “This would mean living in a world even less safe than today’s,” he concluded.
From the geopolitical dimension of this shift in energy policy, Klaus Heimann brought the discussion back to a redefinition of the term “energy supply chain.” He spoke of drastic changes that are requiring utility companies to produce new solutions, with more intensive use of renewable energy sources, for example, leading to increased decentralization among energy providers and greater fluctuations in supply. Heimann described this as going hand in hand with price instability, which gives consumers more influence to wield. People will want to know exactly what price they are paying for a kilowatt-hour of electricity at any given time.
Secure energy has its price
According to Heimann, information technology comes into play by helping end customers use energy more efficiently. He referred to new offerings SAP is currently working feverishly to finish, such as a SAP HANA-based BI solution that will enable users to quickly process huge quantities of data. Web-based solutions are expected to aid in reducing the number of times consumers have to contact call centers. In Heimann’s view, this will give consumers an active role in the system, but they will have to realize that “secure energy doesn’t always come at an attractive price.”
For Heimann, there’s no question that the new age of energy will be shaped by the use of sources based on wind, water, biomass, and the sun. The SAP expert cited the importance of smart grids capable of efficient energy distribution and appealed to his colleagues in the fields of industry and politics to push for corresponding technology and process standards.
It is precisely this manner of uniform, overarching specifications that will be necessary to secure investments and effect real change in the energy industry. “Everyone should sit down together and develop a realistic, coordinated, affordable, and quickly implementable strategy for moving into the new age of energy,” Heimann concluded.