Enabling the smart grid

Stephen Harper, head of business development, commercial for SCISYS - discusses the transition of distribution network operators (DNOs) to distribution system operators (DSOs) and the smart grid.

Enabling the smart grid

Government demands for decarbonisation, a changing energy landscape of renewables, demand-side response, battery storage, the growth of electric vehicles and advances in digital technology require the use of innovative tools and techniques. These include: IoT, web-based customer self-service, blockchain, geospatial and even space-based technologies such as Earth Observation to enable the transition of distribution network operators (DNOs) to distribution system operators (DSOs) and the creation of the smart grid. 

Government policies are driving this transition, as well as advances in technology. The Climate Change Act of 2008 requires the UK to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and the UK signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 to limit global temperature rises to 2°C. Therefore, the government is providing financial support for investment in low-carbon generation and low-carbon transport, such as electric vehicles.

The growth in renewables – such as, solar, wind and biogas – has decentralised electricity generation and brought it closer to the consumer. Improvements in battery technology also mean that electricity distribution is changing radically from uni-directional to two-way flows.

Advances in digital consumer technologies such as smart meters and in-home control systems allow more control over domestic consumption, while home-based solar, wind and battery developments have allowed households to become “prosumers”, that is suppliers as well as consumers.

The rollout of smart meters is giving consumers more control over their usage and bills. A smart meter records electric and/or gas consumption and communicates the information to the supplier for monitoring and billing. These also allow a consumer to monitor their own consumption and regulate demand by making better use of cheaper, off-peak supplies.

The smart grid encourages small-scale, home-based renewable-energy installations such as solar panels and wind turbines to supply energy themselves. This provides the possibility to connect battery storage to the grid. Electric vehicles not only increase demand, they also act as storage devices to smooth peaks and troughs in demand – again, taking advantage of cheaper rates.

Other benefits for consumers include a greater resilience of the network, improved security of supply due to the distributed nature of a smart grid and reduced pollution thanks to greater energy efficiency and greater use of renewables.

 

The rise in distributed generation

Traditional DNOs are transitioning to DSOs. A DSO’s role is to manage an active distribution network comprising distributed energy resources (DERs) as well as large-scale generation. In addition, DSOs must now consider new commercial models that better exploit DERs, such as local energy markets – where companies, communities, and even individuals, can strike bilateral deals with nearby electricity generators for their energy supply.

This transition is driving digital transformation within DSOs and the use of innovative technologies such as:

  • IoT (Internet of Things) technology to connect, monitor and control network assets.
  • Web-based customer self-service systems to enable managed access to users.
  • Blockchain technology to facilitate secure, distributed-trading access to local energy markets.
  • Geospatial technology to locate network assets accurately.
  • Space-based technology such as using Earth Observation data from satellites combined with AI (artificial intelligence) to detect changes to the network infrastructure and schedule preventative maintenance.
  • Use of open standards and open architectures to enable integration with existing network systems.

The smart grid requires that network assets are accurately located digitally as intelligent vector-based data. Geospatial systems are used to map assets and the more intelligent the asset data, the easier it is to automate management processes such as planned works and outages.

 

Conclusion

Electricity networks are changing fundamentally and fast. Power generation is becoming increasingly decentralised, making grid management increasingly complex. Meeting these challenges requires the use of new and innovative techniques that ensure managed asset integration with existing network systems to enable the successful transition from DNO to DSO. This will form the backbone of an intelligent smart grid.


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