The fourth industrial revolution, called industry 4.0, is happening right now. It is not only about mechanization, mass production and computer automation, but also about issues such as cloud computing, the internet of things (IoT) and cyber physical systems.
This context also impacts heavily on energy systems, which need to be able to support much higher demand – but without further impact on the environment.
Therefore, Energy 4.0 is conceived, an innovative concept of clean and distributed energy generation, enabling countless services and innovations, allowing new and more sustainable ways of life to develop along with the industrial revolutions.
The energy evolution and the need for a paradigm shift
It is impossible to talk about the future without thinking about the impact that all these revolutions have brought to nature. As the global GDP has increased in the last 70 years, the planet has suffered serious consequences, such as a 20 cm elevation in the sea level and a 1ºC increase in the Earth’s average temperature.
This is related to an ever growing power demand: with the development of new technologies and means of production, the power demand has also increased. However, the main sources of energy generation used today have proved not to be the best option in terms of sustainability for our planet.
In light of all these aspects, why not migrate to more sustainable and renewable sources? Solar energy is the most available in almost the entire planet, with countless applications and possibilities – on top of that, it has a much lower environmental impact than traditional options.
However, when it comes to solar energy, most people think only of solar power plants, situated far away from large urban centers, but there are already other technologies capable of bringing solar energy closer to the cities’ daily routines.
Energy 4.0 is an evolution of power generation systems, characterized by being a truly distributed energy with very low cost technologies. The idea is that power generating companies do not profit from distribution in kWh, but rather that the value is perceived by what the energy is capable of providing to society.
“When we consider the energy as a service enabling factor, you start monetizing not the energy itself, through the kWh, but the service it is capable of enabling,” says Felipe Ivo, Sunew’s Business Development Director.
We can then understand that energy 4.0 would be the enabling power of all the connectivity present in the 4.0 industry – such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT).
In the integrated and distributed energy 4.0 context, the solar energy solutions of organic photovoltaic films (OPV) acquire great prominence for having the ability to take advantage of both sunlight and all the available urban structure. Pretty much any furniture, facade and surface can become an energy generator.
As a result, there is a reduction in environmental impact, better use of surfaces and the possibility of generating power on a much larger scale, enabling more and more services and creating city models that are smarter and more connected.
Energy 4.0 and smart cities
Smart cities are a trend in urbanism and a leading light for a future capable of combining technological development and environmental care. These cities unite technological solutions that allow work and human living, increasing the quality of life and reducing environmental impacts.
Among the many solutions, many are energy-related. In Europe, such changes are already noticeable: it is estimated that by 2022, Europeans will be able to self-generate and store energy at the same cost as when it is purchased from suppliers.
Big companies have entered the energy sector, such as Google, Amazon, Walmart and Apple. In 2016, Google set the goal of offsetting all electricity consumption in its data center and main office with renewable energy in one year. In Europe, regulatory pressures have led to an increase in the renewable energy sector and a reduction in carbon emissions.
Faced with all those factors, it is mandatory that changes occur in the way energy is generated, consumed and understood globally, creating solutions that allow technological contributions and greater connectivity, without putting our planet at risk.
OPV as a solution
Cities do not stop growing and evolving. For those who work in the energy sector, more than a problem, this context can also be seen as a new way to rethink the future. “How can we see these urban structures and resignify them? Transforming these structures into energy generators too”, says Sunew’s Business Development Director, Felipe Ivo.
Based on this innovative vision, the Brazilian company Sunew has developed the organic photovoltaic films (OPV) – the third generation of solar cell technology. “It is a very thin and super lightweight film, semitransparent, produced from organic and recyclable materials. It is easy to handle and opens a universe of possibilities for solar energy”, explains Felipe Ivo.
The OPV is likely to gain notoriety in the construction of smart cities due to its countless possibilities of use, since the organic photovoltaic film can be applied to building facades, bus stops, vehicles, lightweight and curved structures, remote locations, and other infinite scenarios.
More than hypothetical possibilities, the OPV is already a reality and is integrated in an innovative way in several projects such as skylights of shopping malls, companies’ facades, urban furniture and even in trucks, always with the purpose of generating clean and sustainable energy with energy efficiency and minimum environmental impact.
The coronavirus pandemic and society’s changes
All these changes we have been going through have been accelerated by the Coronavirus pandemic. “The world has awakened to the need for digitalization and energy. If we are talking about more energy being generated in a distributed way, we have a flexibilization of the whole chain in a general way”, comments Felipe Batista, COO of HephaEnergy, Sunew’s partner company.
This same feeling is shared by Felipe Ivo. For him, COVID-19 “has sparked some behavior changes that are very favorable to the sustainability movement. We are talking about taking green energy, technology and services anywhere”.
The director reinforces that COVID-19 is one of the waves capable of changing our way of thinking about sustainability and consumption, but there will still be others, especially the climate change one. “Thinking about the phase we are going through, this is the right time to innovate and create the future that we so much desire and crave for,” concludes Felipe Ivo.
In short, when facing a scenario of technological growth and constant connectivity, energy becomes even more important. After all, it is energy that will enable services from industry 4.0 and also from smart cities. But with the current energy system, it is almost impossible to glimpse that future.
We know that our current power generation methods cannot support the growing energy demand and still put the environment and life on the planet at risk, causing various consequences that we can already feel.
Therefore, the path to be followed is towards the generation of distributed, clean and efficient energy, capable of enabling services and technologies, transforming our mindset of energy production and consumption, creating sustainable solutions that can be expanded without impacting the environment.