• Fayaz Ahmed

Digitalization: Transforming Power Grids for an Integrated, Renewable and Efficient Energy System

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Power Grid (network for electrification), by some estimates, the largest machine in the world, a continent-spanning wonder of the modern age.

The main purpose of building network for electrification was to deliver electricity from producers to consumers. It consists of:

Although, there have been some infamous occasional well-publicized failures resulting blackouts around the globe but overall power grid design has lived up to the expectations by remaining remarkably reliable in delivering energy to almost everyone having access to physical power grid, almost every second of every day. This is not an ordinary feat because as we know, until very recently, almost none of that power could be stored. Therefore, in order to meet end users demand at the exact second they need it, that power has to be generated, sent over miles of wires, and all of that has to happen in a perfectly synchronized dance.

But the times have changed and the traditional power network designed for one way delivering of electricity from producers to consumers is having difficult time managing variable production from renewables and consumer flexibility. Because decarbonisation and decentralization of energy using renewables have increased the complexity of running the energy system. This added complexity requires management, and that management requires high level of digitalization to ensure reliability and security of the energy system.

Therefore, it is clear that the road that took us here won’t take us any further, and major transformations are required to transform the electricity grid to prepare it for massive integration of renewables in the future.

As the penetration of renewables and consumer flexibility increases in the Power Grid (Network for electrification). Power network struggles with the following challenges:

  • System shortfalls

  • Network congestion

  • Frequency control

  • Voltage control

  • Stability

  • System restoration

  • System adequacy

Digital technologies like big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence can undoubtedly play a large part in transforming the electricity grid to pave the ground for efficient integration of massive variable renewables and consumer flexibility.

Some examples how digital technologies can transform electricity grid:

  • Digital tools for consumer – to enable the consumer to become the active actor of the power system

  • Digital tools for grid – to efficiently operate transmission and distribution grid

  • Digital tools for assets visibility and a marketplace to exchange energy services between those assets.

  • Digital Platforms to run electricity markets in different countries

  • Data management and analytics – decision support to grid operators

  • Self-healing technologies for balancing the generation and consumption

  • Tools for integrated monitoring, control, communication

  • Transitioning to Digital substation - software platform to operate substation, control substation and grid

  • Tools to enable operation with lower inertia so we don’t have to systematically curtail renewables - Using AI to identify and predict the geographical areas which might have inertia problem in the future so as to be ready to support those areas with enhanced frequency response to stabilize the grid.

Need for Robust Data Fabric:

In order to fully reap the rewards of digitalization there is a need for robust Data Fabric:

  • Eliminating data silos

  • Automating data exchanges

  • Enhancing interoperability between digital systems - the ability to exchange data and information and coordinate decisions

All of this would require joint cooperation between all actors from generation, grid operators, academia, and technology provider.

There is also an emerging digital economy once the physical assets are digitized there is a massive opportunity for new innovative business models on the IT side.

If we get this right, we have the opportunity to create new businesses and jobs, empower consumers, and help people save their energy bills in the coming decades.






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