Digitalization: Transforming Power Grids for an Integrated, Renewable and Efficient Energy System
Updated: Mar 1
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:
Large centralized power generating stations (i.e. fossil fuel power plant etc.)
Electrical substations for stepping electrical voltage up for transmission, or down for distribution
Low voltage distribution lines that connect individual customers
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:
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.