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Off the Grid: Dan Agnew

The energy transition currently underway is only going to gather force over the next decade and Eaton ANZ Managing Director Dan Agnew is excited to be at the forefront of the movement.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s energy is still generated by burning coal, oil and gas, but the world is gradually making the shift from fossil-based fuels to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, as well as energy storage technology. It’s good news for the planet, and Eaton is playing an important part in enabling the transition advises Eaton ANZ Managing Director Dan Agnew.

It’s a trend that is being driven by a growing penetration of renewable energy sources, increasing electrification and enhanced energy storage solutions. And it’s only expected to gather momentum as governments and big corporates accept their environmental responsibilities and prioritise environmental, social and governance matters.

"There’s a global change to a more sustainable and digitised future. As we transition away from carbon-based fuel sources the management of that transition is a complex challenge for energy generators, providers and government," he tells The CEO Magazine.

The move away from a central source of power generation towards a more distributed network of smaller energy sources, like roof-top solar, creates an entirely different dynamic. "It creates a significant change in the way the grid operates," he explains. "Instead of the power going one way, a more flexible, bi-directional energy flow approach is required. Grid stabilisation and reliability are therefore key to ensure a stable energy network and distribution.

"Eaton recognises the inevitable changes that will affect the grid’s operational integrity, and acknowledges that our products and offering must take an adaptable approach. Our strategy is to enable our customers to participate responsibly in the transition without compromising on their operation. Through technologies that support bi-directional power, storage and energy management, we’re playing a critical role in helping our customer meet demand growth and balance grid volatility."

Infrastructure and data centres are great examples of the immense potential of the multi-directional model, according to Dan. The data centre market is projected to increase to A$149.5 billion by 2026, presenting a significant opportunity for the Australian economy.

We are well-positioned to support our telco customers establish smarter power management.

At the same time, data centres account for up to four per cent of the total energy consumption, an estimated 200 terawatt hours annually. A combination of customer and regulatory requirements, and corporate sustainability policies, operators such as NextDC, Amazon, Google and Microsoft are committed to implementing carbon-free or carbon neutral programmes in their data centres.

"Data centres are well-positioned to be valuable players in the grid transition to carbon neutrality and a sustainable future by engaging with the energy market," Dan suggests. "Uninterruptible power supply or UPS plays a critical role in the power management of data centres.

"The evolution of UPS design and technology has improved not only the performance, energy efficiency and efficacy of the devices, UPS with lithium-ion batteries can enable data centres to participate in the grid as energy storage in a virtual power plant. Thus fulfilling the operators sustainability targets and at the same time contributing to a more stable grid system."

The rollout of 5G is also expected to dramatically increase demand on the power front. "That’s going to create a more than 50 per cent increase in the amount of power that the network requires," Dan says. "We are well-positioned to support our telco customers establish smarter power management.

As we transition away from carbon-based fuel sources, the management of that transition is a complex challenge for energy generators, providers and government.

"While more energy efficient and network-ready hardware is required, software and solutions play an equally critical role in helping network providers manage their energy usage, especially across large distributed network. Eaton’s software suites allow operators and providers to access usage data real-time, with the ability to manage load remotely and provide predictive analysis of energy usage, thus reducing wastage and instability."

On the consumer front, transition to electric vehicles is underway, albeit more rapidly in a handful of developed nations. According to the federal government assessment, 90 per cent of Australia’s new cars will be electric by 2050. While some may baulk at the cost of such a transition, Dan is keen to point out that it doesn’t need to be at an exorbitant cost.

"We spend an incredible amount every year on new infrastructure and capital equipment. We buy one million vehicles each year and at the moment, only around one per cent of the new cars on the road are electric," he says. "If there were more incentives to buy an electric car and we change that to 50 per cent electric vehicles over 10 years, then you’ve got 500,000 new electric vehicles on the road every year. The investments are being made anyway, we’re just spending too much on the non-sustainable ones."

A surge is underway in new business models that enable businesses to be greener without breaking the bank and creates opportunities for revenue generation. That is only going to gather pace over the coming years, Dan forecasts, stressing that we can also start now on a smaller scale to make a difference.

Referencing the work of Saul Griffith, the author of Electrify, Dan says, "We could cut 80 per cent of our emissions by 2035 just by electrifying things that can be electrified now with existing technologies. Eighty per cent of the problem goes away by adapting to solutions where the technology already exists such as electric vehicles and changing from gas heating to electric reverse cycle air conditioning for example."

In the future, people aren’t going to be living in a tent with no electricity, unable to stream a movie to their device or anything like that.

Embracing the transition towards sustainable energy sources, Eaton announced its intention to become carbon neutral by 2030, lowering its greenhouse gas emissions to 50 per cent of 2018 levels by 2030 and sending zero waste to landfill. Dan is hopeful that more people and companies will do the same as they come to the realisation that going greener won’t negatively impact their lifestyles.

"In the future, people aren’t going to be living in a tent with no electricity, unable to stream a movie to their device or anything like that," he insists. "We can complete this energy transition and your quality of life won’t degrade as long as it’s driven with some leadership by policy makers.

"We have great technology in energy transition – we’re heavily invested in this sustainable future and that’s why it makes me excited about being part of Eaton, because we’re going to be part of the solution."

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