In the future, society will be powered by green electricity and production facilities will rely on wind and weather. Quantum computers can contribute to finding a solution that accommodates a varying electricity production as well as a both constant and increasing electricity consumption.
Large business ventures do not emerge overnight. And rarely by pure coincident. Thanks to decades of development fuelled by generous political support from the Danish government, wind turbines have become a mainstream energy source. Technologies such as Power-to-X and large-scale energy storage are being positioned to take the next big steps in the energy transition, but so far, few use quantum computers and the green transition in the same sentence. That is about to change because quantum technology will play a massive role in just a few years.
Expectations for quantum technology are immense. That holds true for the military sector, navigation and not least innovation that can contribute to increasing sustainability, such as optimisation of batteries for vehicles. But let's focus on the power grid – the backbone of the green transition. We know that we'll need to boost the power grid significantly in the coming decades to accommodate a much bigger electricity consumption as well as large fluctuations in the electricity production by wind turbines and PV cells. The cost estimates for a new power grid vary considerably, and we've seen figures as high as DKK 110 billion.
We are facing a giant project, so we need to go about this in the smartest way possible. The huge processing power of quantum computers allows for far more accurate simulations of the Danish power grid that what is possible today, and lets you identify the least costly solutions. Shaving a sizeable chunk of the price tag we have to pay.
Today, 58 per cent of Danish electricity is produced by variable energy sources, i.e., wind and solar energy. Having variable energy sources account for such a big share of our power supply is relatively new, and that fundamentally changes the workings of our power system. The challenge is that the electricity consumption appears to remain inflexible during long periods of time. And driven by the rapidly increasing electrification of the transportation and heating sectors, the electricity consumption will be many times bigger than today's. This, too, is an area where quantum computers can play a vital role. Not only can this powerful tool contribute to optimising energy production based on variable energy sources; it can also be used to nudge our energy demand to achieve a better match with the varying electricity production. Thanks to the massive processing power of quantum computers, it will be possible to calculate detailed weather forecasts in real time, based on unfathomably vast data volumes.
Some of the largest electricity consumers in Denmark will be large electrolysis plants. In the future, it may be possible to choose when to produce hydrogen during the day, depending on the supply of energy – in other words, the volume of the production based on variable energy sources. That is a key element for hydrogen producers since they will most likely will have to produce a certain minimum volume a year and have a strong incentive to only produce when the electricity is cheap. And that means regular optimisation dilemmas for energy producers. They will have to choose between selling electricity directly to the consumer or using the electricity to produce hydrogen. A quantum computer would be able to provide a better decision-making basis, using its high-precision forecasts.
Indeed, quantum computing can contribute to ensuring the most efficient use of the fluctuating electricity. Optimising will lower the prices of both electricity and green fuels, benefitting both private consumers and large industrial consumers.
The above are but a few examples of the positive impacts on society, but quantum computers won't be implemented in our energy supply without any efforts on our part. The technology is still at an early stage and there are few highly qualified experts in the field, which may slow down the implementation. Since Denmark has the potential to become a leader in quantum technology, we need to maintain political focus on the progress. Because our talented research institutions and the quantum science environment in Denmark are already in the global elite. Let's support this leading position to ensure that Danish-developed quantum solutions are the next big boost in the green transition – in Denmark and abroad.
By Marius Weydahl Berg, Chief Business Development Officer, COWI
Brought as op-ed in Danish news media JP Finans