Why The Case for Smart Grid is Stronger than Ever?
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
PHOTO: IEEE Innovation at Work
Power grids or the networks for electrification started getting built in the early 20th century and were initially designed for much simpler world where delivering electricity required only one direction flow of electricity from large fossil fuel powered plants to passive consumers, looking something like this:
(Photo: E.DSO Website)
However, the times have changed and the traditional power network design capable of transporting electricity in only one direction from large fossil fuel powered plants to passive consumers is no longer fit for handling the current complex electricity system of the future. To put it in other words, the road that took us here won’t take us any further.
For instance, European Union is commited towards becoming the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050. For such ambitious goal to be achieved, an ever increasing share of renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar) needs to be connected to the electricity networks.
As we move towards the future where renewables certainly going to play the key part in the future electricity system. Then we need to have a smart power network design that is capable of handling the fluctuating power supply from renewables efficiently unlike traditional power network that was designed to handle steady, reliable power generation from large fossil fuel power plants. Furthermore, increasing and changing customer choices, strict environmental regulations, and of course aging infrastructure has made the case even stronger for smarter, more flexible and efficient grids.
As we have more and more distributed energy sources, storage points, as well as demand response or consumer flexibility in the system, then hooking up these new agents to existing grids won’t be straightforward, because the networks that carry our electricity supply into our homes and offices are decades old, designed to deal with steady, reliable power generation. Therefore, major transformations are required to redesign our grid infrastructure in such a way that can manage a system with large-scale, intermittent renewable energy generation and growing amounts of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar panels, small-scale wind turbines, electrolysers, batteries and even electric vehicles that can accumulate excess energy and allow thousands of these “agents” to transact safely with each other seamlessly.
Instead of the one-directional system shown above, distribution networks are starting to look more like this:
(Photo: E.DSO Website)
When we are talking about the smart grid, actually we are talking about many combination of solutions and millions of pieces and parts—controls, computers, power lines, and new technologies and equipment. Because handing these complex electricity flows in the future would require re-thinking of how to make the best use of new energy sources while also keeping infrastructure costs down. Instead of only extending / reinforcing physical infrastructure, which is extremely costly and disruptive to local communities, there is a strong need for the introduction of innovative complementary IT solutions, adding communication, sensors and automation allowing grid operators (DSOs/TSOs) to actively manage the varying generation and demand.
As everything takes some time, I am aware that it won’t happen all at once—the good news is that Smart Grid is evolving and digital technologies like big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence are undoubtedly going to play a large part in transforming the electricity grid to pave the ground for smarter, more flexible and efficient grids.
Also another important thing to understand is that only energy generation won’t lead us to a net-zero emissions energy system. I believe energy generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption is holding some part of the solution and only when all of these solutions are integrated and fit together then only we can have more connected, intelligent, efficient, reliable and sustainable energy system. Therefore, for achieving successful energy transition, the infrastructure that carries energy is just as important as the assets used to produce or consume it.
And the failure to act fast in the development of smart grid infrastructure could lead to negative consequences, putting energy reliability at risk and halting world’s transition towards the energy system of the future.