Need for digital solutions to enable sustainable and resilient distribution grids
Shifts in technology across the power grid, from source to socket, are forcing energy ecosystem players to find a new solution to an old problem – how to provide reliable power wherever it is needed, whenever it is needed today and in the future. In other words, how to solve for sustainability and resiliency. Time for next-generation distribution grids.
From centralized generation, to distributed renewables
Power generation is becoming more complex and less predictable. Large, centralized fossil fuel plants are accounting for an ever-reducing share of our generation mix, as renewables such and wind and photovoltaics increasingly take center stage. Much of this new renewable capacity will be built in smaller, decentralized, even behind-the-meter locations, and all of this new renewable capacity will provide a variable output based on multiple factors, such as, for instance, weather. We will need adaptive models to effectively integrate these complex and unpredictable assets into our power systems.
From supply and demand, to supply and demand and store
Battery energy storage systems are set to play a key role in balancing the grid. Much like generation assets, batteries will not be confined to large centralized storage sites, rather scattered across the network and even mobile, as electric vehicles connected to bidirectional chargers enable vehicle-to-grid power flows. We will need dynamic models and specific algorithms to effectively forecast storage availability and call on stored reserves to top up the grid.
The electrification of everything
Electricity consumption is forecast to grow twice as fast as other energy sources. From electric vehicles, to electrified heating systems, the evolution of our power consumption mix will place an increased burden on the power grid. While this shift presents an opportunity to simplify our infrastructure, by eliminating the need for gas pipes for example, the increases in load and complexity in evaluating demand patterns will require ever more granular metering information, including at secondary substations and fiscal meters. We will need a combination of IoT-enabled field devices with high density connectivity – enabled by 5G – plus big data and parallel computing technologies to handle the huge data volumes generated and deliver actionable insight at speed.
Billing on blockchain
The distributed nature of tomorrow’s power systems will require multiple actors to share responsibility for balancing the grid; from large plant generators, through TSOs and DSOs, down to energy aggregators and prosumers themselves. This critical service will be enabled by low latency and distributed intelligence, provided by edge computers, working in concert with the cloud to generate aggregated results. We will need a system of trust between multiple entities and are looking to emergent blockchain technology to facilitate high-volume, frictionless, transparent and irrefutable energy transactions across the grid.
Solving for sustainability and resiliency
These technological shifts are all contributing to the emergence of the next generation grid – an increasingly decentralized, complex and unpredictable energy distribution network characterized by a paradigm shift from power distribution to power routing. Renewables provide an enormous opportunity to decarbonize our energy mix and drive towards the critical sustainability goal of a carbon neutral world. Distributed generation and storage provide resiliency by definition, as the provision of power is not confined to a few large, centralized generation assets. Now, the key to realizing the new grids, and ensuring that sustainability and resilience are delivered hand-in-hand, are the digital solutions that enable it. We will need digital grid management, including common information models, smart asset management systems, AI-enabled process control, and real-time data processing, as well as digital consumer engagement, and also digital employee enablement in order to bring the new sustainable distribution grids to life.