Analyzing which sources the energy in the grid should come from is complex - especially as a larger part comes from wind and sun which has a more unpredictable output. To Energinet, a quantum computer would be able to handle complicated calculations that a classic computer can't do. Photo: Energinet/Maria Tuxen Hedegaard

Danish companies are staying quantum ready

Friday 23 Jun 23


Tobias Gehring
Associate Professor
DTU Physics
+45 93 51 16 49
Although it may take decades before the quantum computer becomes widespread, it is important for many companies and organizations to stay on top of things already now. The consequences of lagging behind can be catastrophic.

What exactly is a quantum computer? And what can it do? Many Danish companies are probably grappling with this question, and even though quantum computers may not become widespread for another 10-20 years, the topic is so complicated—and the potential so great—that you already need to prepare for what it will mean to your organization now before it is too late. To use a buzzword, it is all about being ‘quantum ready’. But how do we get ready?

There is no exact definition, but several experts point out that it is about analysing what impact quantum technology can have on your industry and how it can crush both current and future problems—but also create new threats.

“There are many industries, such as life science and logistics, that will really benefit from the quantum computer, and here it’s important not to lag behind, because it can damage your competitiveness,” says Mikkel Haarder, Vice President for Education and Research in the Confederation of Danish Industry.

He explains that the Confederation of Danish Industry is experiencing great interest in the topic from their members, and that it recently held a highly attended quantum conference.

“Most people understand that quantum technology will be important to them, but many companies—even those that are research-intensive—are uncertain about how far from or close to the market the technologies are,” says Mikkel Haarder.

Therefore, he believes that the research environments have a great responsibility to support innovation by explaining how companies can use the technology and develop application scenarios.

“DTU has already had success with this—for example the collaboration with KPMG and Danske Bank on the first quantum-proof data transfer in the Nordic region, which was conducted successfully last year. So if you want to be quantum ready, you have to keep an eye on what is happening in these collaborations,” says Mikkel Haarder.

Calculations on a giant scale

The logistics industry is one of the industries that sees great opportunities in quantum technology, and Lasse Jiborn is excited to use the enormous computing power of the quantum computer. He is Commercial Director of AMCS Group, which supplies software to the logistics industry, where they calculate routes for truck transport of everything from petrol to mail and parcels and cement for the construction industry.

“We specialize in highly complex logistical problems,” says Lasse Jiborn.

Route planning is precisely one of those tasks where conventional computers fall short. For example, if you need to plan a route with 10 stops, it can be composed in 3.6 million different ways (10 x 9 x 8 x ...).

“But 10 stops is nothing for our trucks. We’re planning for maybe 100 trucks, each making 300 stops a day,” explains Lasse Jiborn.

300 stops give an astronomical number of possible routes—3.1 x 10 615 to be precise. A conventional computer can still cope with this, but, for AMCS Group, it can take up to eight hours to calculate the optimal route. And this presents a challenge if something unpredictable happens—a traffic accident, roadworks, snow, mechanical problems with a truck—that involves rerouting in the middle of the day. Because they will then not have enough time to make new calculations.

“Our data models and calculations are absolutely huge and take a long time. But, with a quantum computer, we will be able to create realistic, optimized routes much faster, and it will also be possible to solve large-scale problems within the time available,” explains Lasse Jiborn.

AMCS Group is staying ‘quantum ready’ by analysing how the quantum computer can help them. They are also participating in the DTU project PhotoQ, which will primarily develop photonic quantum processors, but also algorithms, which can work with current problems in logistics and development of medicine.

“Our hope is that a quantum computer can cut the calculation time from hours to minutes. This will not only save us time, but also fuel, and, ultimately, reduce CO2emissions,” says Lasse Jiborn.

The potential also holds a threat

The quantum computer not only offers potential, but also entails cyber security challenges, because the quantum computer’s unique computing power will be able to break our existing encryption and checkmate our IT security. Fortunately, quantum-proof encryption is already being developed, and here it’s important for companies to assess which data are particularly sensitive and necessary to protect.

“As an organization, you primarily need to be aware of the threat that quantum computers may pose to your current infrastructure,” says Tobias Gehring, Associate Professor at DTU Physics and co-developer of quantum-proof encryption.

He explains that it is expected to take 10-15 years to change the current encryption infrastructure, and therefore you should not wait too long to get ready.

“As soon as the quantum computer is here, it will be too late to get started, because you risk that hackers will break into your systems. So it’s important to be well prepared to avoid sudden panic reactions,” says Tobias Gehring.

There is a calculation for when you need to start protecting your data. You are at risk if the number of years your data must be protected, combined with the time it takes to implement quantum-proof encryption in your IT systems, is longer than the time it takes before the quantum computer can break currently available encryption. The big question is, of course, when the quantum computer can do this. Every year, the Canadian Global Risk Institute asks 40 leading quantum experts from all over the world about this, and here the majority believe that it will in all likelihood not occur until in 15-20 years.

"So if your data are valuable for a longer period of time, you will have a big problem,” says Tobias Gehring.

Both further away and closer than expected

They have also grappled with this calculation in Energinet and have come to the conclusion that they must start getting quantum ready immediately. Energinet owns and operates the Danish energy infrastructure and has a small team of three people working with quantum technology.

“It only takes one functional quantum computer to constitute a threat to our systems and the entire critical infrastructure, and we actually don’t know what different military laboratories are working with and how far they have come,” says Alexander Frederiksen, Digital Business Developer at Energinet.

Therefore, Energinet is working to expand its competences in quantum technology in its organization, and, among other collaborations, Energinet participates in DTU’s CryptQ project, where they will test quantum distribution keys such as those Tobias Gehring is developing in their transformer stations.

“It’s an attempt to minimize risk. Our biggest fear is that if someone can break our encryption and listen in on our fibre-based communication, they can collect information over a long period of time,” explains Alexander Frederiksen.

He elaborates that the technology is both further away and closer than they had expected.

“At present, you can already have a cloud-based solution from IBM, where you can use a quantum computer to make some calculations. This would have sounded like science fiction a few years ago,” says Alexander Frederiksen.

Conversely, he had hoped that it could be used to make more complicated calculations than is the case.

Can simulate nature

While the security aspect is most acute for Energinet, the long-term perspectives are more exciting. As the energy grid receives more and more power from renewable—but also unpredictable—sources such as wind and solar power, it becomes more complex to calculate how the power is to be allocated in the most price-effective way.

That's why Energinet would like to simulate a complex electricity grid without outages and which entails the lowest possible costs. Today, it is also complicated to connect sustainable energy production to an old electricity grid with limited capacity, and Energinet lacks the computing power to calculate this.

“A quantum computer could possibly do this in minutes and thus optimize the management of our electricity grid. It can also simulate nature, and we can use this to make the right extensions to the electricity grid at the right times, which could benefit consumers,” says Alexander Frederiksen.

Knowledge through research collaborations

However, the greatest obstacle to becoming quantum ready is that it is difficult for companies to acquire relevant knowledge about this field.

“Our biggest challenge is that none of us in the team are quantum physicists,” explains Alexander Frederiksen.

“It’s such a highly technical field and still at a relatively early stage, so the existing communication material is more targeted at quantum researchers. The complexity increases really quickly after you have familiarized yourself with the fundamentals.”

This is recognized by Lasse Jiborn, who explains that very few of AMCS Group’s 1,200 employees have real knowledge of the potential of quantum computing for their industry.

“It still has a tinge of science fiction for some of my colleagues,” he says.

The Confederation of Danish Industry understands this concern, and Mikkel Haarder therefore advises companies to try to enter into industrial and research collaborations to acquire the latest knowledge and have opportunities to try things out in practice that you cannot do elsewhere. This can form the basis for unique quantum technological innovation, he believes:

“I’m sure this will be the next digital revolution. Denmark has a unique position of strength in this field, so we need to get on this train now and invest heavily in it.”

News and filters

Get updated on news that match your filter.