Gaia-X for Energy aims for an ‘Energy Data Space’. What should we understand by that?
Loïc Tilman: “The energy sector is on the verge of a huge paradigm shift. The future will be one without large power plants: energy will be increasingly produced and consumed locally. Shifts such as wind and solar power and electric mobility will also accelerate that process. In addition, we are using more and more digital technologies like AI and the IoT to make energy supply more flexible and cheaper.
All these changes require a value chain in which data are shared in real time, whereby an efficient data infrastructure and cloud services are in turn needed. A decentralized infrastructure is essential to operate with a low latency.
The Energy Data Space will define the input for new, efficient cloud services and a standardized data model. This is done by means of use cases: possible technological applications that underpin the business model of such a cloud infrastructure. For Gaia-X has an important role to play on that front at European level.”
What role can Belgium play in this?
Loïc Tilman: “We have already taken the first steps towards an ‘Internet of Energy’ at Belgian level. We are now drawing up a list of use cases with a number of players in order to make A Belgian contribution to Gaia-X as well. A concrete example: one of the use cases in cooperation with Fluvius shows how we can tackle congestion management better with real time data.
The situation has in the meantime become very urgent: if Belgium does not jump on the bandwagon now, we in danger of falling hopelessly behind. We consider it an enormous opportunity to help shape this project. The impact is great: we can accelerate efficient data use for energy and at the same time build up the data sovereignty and connected infrastructure in Europe.”
What are the biggest challenges for Gaia-X for Energy?
Loïc Tilman: “The energy sector is broadening and bridging with other areas. Many new players are entering the scene, such as electric car makers, heat pump manufacturers, new energy suppliers, etc. That is good news in and of itself: digitalization and electrification can help overcome the obstacles in the energy sector.
But the condition is that everyone has to work towards the same goal in that increasingly complex ecosystem. Uniform data modelling and access par particularly important when it comes to integrating all aspects of the energy transition.
This has to do with the renewable energy model, but hydrogen and nuclear energy are also hot topics in some countries. And their impact is broader than just the energy sector: other segments such as buildings and mobility are also part of the transition.so we need to break those silos and move towards a 360° approach, with a shared and standardized digital infrastructure.
A second challenge is the active presence of what are known as hyperscalers. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to compete with these players. We are in danger of losing our sovereignty in digitalization, while there are just a lot of opportunities for European companies.”
Why is this sovereignty so important?
Loïc Tilman: “A very concrete example: There are certain services at Elia that we simply cannot transfer to the cloud for security reasons. Our communication lines bust be black-out proof, and the question arises as to whether we can entrust the data of such critical system operations to non-European cloud players. A ‘sovereign cloud’ can be called upon by Gaia-X to standardize such processes according to European standards.
Another example: the rise of electric cars is a huge challenge for the energy sector. To give you an idea, all Tesla cars in German together consume as much energy as generated by two nuclear reactors. Tesla now even has a licence as an energy supplier in Germany. In other words, it is a new player in the energy value chain.
A hacker could hypothetically get into Tesla’s back-end system and thus gain access to the digital infrastructure connected to it. So you have to subject such players to the same strict security requirements. You cannot control or impose those standards without digital sovereignty."
How should we tackle those challenges?
Loïc Tilman: “By creating rules: a standard for managing the access and consent of data, metadata and realtime data. If, for example, Microsoft is the only player currently offering data services, then data management is carried out according to their standard. We must therefore aim for a level playing field for all providers.
This should be carried out according to ‘federated services’, ‘Gaia-X certified services that comply with the same European standard. That is where the added value of Gaia-X lies, namely in creating an open and equal ecosystem in which everyone can share and manage data according to the same rules.
Gaia-X will therefore have to secure an agreement on cloud standards. This will moreover create interoperability and portability: the ability to use multiple providers simultaneously and make it easier to switch between them. These two things are currently lacking in Europe. And that in turn puts a brake on the use of the cloud for many companies.”
What will it take for Gaia-X to succeed?
Loïc Tilman: “I think that even more parties need to get involved in this story: service providers, distribution system operators (DSOs) such as Fluvius in Belgium, IT players, etc. In essence, everyone involved in a real-time value chain. We need voices from all countries and all fields to contribute. We also need political support to set general rules and to provide strategic and financial support, of course. This is already happening in Germany, for instance, where Gaia-X occupies a prominent place on the political agenda with genuine determination on the part of the government and leading business leaders working together to promote the data space and the EU cloud initiative.”
"Agoria plays an important role in putting Gaia-X on the map in Belgium, not only politically, but also to all players in the value chain. And for them the impact is enormous. They are actively helping to determine the future of the energy sector and the data ecosystem, which is now in full development. In a few years it will be too late. Furthermore, players who get in early will acquire a strong position within Gaia-X.”