Development of the grid – Part 2
This is the second article as a follow on from Development of the grid – Part 1, where we dealt with the energy industry from its early steps until today. In this article, we focus on future challenges, solutions, and benefits.
New technologies, from solar arrays to large-scale storage batteries and smart home management systems can now provide utilities with new tools to reshape their businesses. Yet one thing stands in the way: the aging and obsolete existing grid that relies on mostly manual and local-control schemes to operate the distribution system.
As we are rapidly changing towards a two-way energy flow distribution, the grid is required to do a lot more than it ever has, and its current state needs to be upgraded. Business models and variations in state regulations are in need of fast response to keep up with the fast-moving energy sector.
Our current grid voltage management is extremely simple, with just a few points of control. If you bring in distributed generation resources, you are adding extra voltage sources into the grid, for which it was not designed. Fluctuation in voltage can adversely impact the performance of electrical machinery and appliances, so optimizing voltage is an important goal for utilities – making a better voltage-control system a requirement. Moving towards a decentralized system makes this even more challenging.
Advanced smart meters are being brought into use as monitoring the grid has to be taken to a new level. There is also a risk that the storage and distributed generation is a “hidden load,” which makes it more challenging for operators to see the system’s demands.
A sensor technology called synchrophasors has been added to the distribution grid to point out some operational problems in order to protect against fluctuations and small outages. A synchrophasor can help with voltage management by computing solar generation and load, identifying which way power is flowing and enhancing cybersecurity.
Increased grid automation and the introduction of 5G sensors will create new market opportunities for grid operators. Consumers will be able to optimize smart devices with data provided by grid operators. This then can be used for targeted consumer insights from smart-meter data that can be sold to retailers.
Future Grid Platform Benefits
- Identifying the cause of service quality issues faster
- Predict asset failures by locating errors and automatically assigns workers to fix those.
- Maintaining security & safety
- With forecasting methods, it’s possible to avoid major power outages
- Smartphone system integration enables using the system locally and remotely
Potential future scenarios
Ten years from now, we believe that drones and robots will carry out most maintenance tasks within the grid. Grid sensors and smart meters will collect all relevant data – from downed wires to consumption spikes. This real-time data will flow into the central databank for AI-powered predictive analysis, and with this collected data, skilled technicians can remotely support field workers through smartphones and other smart devices. In addition, GPS tracking will allow utilities to improve workforce scheduling, route planning, and utilization rates.
There is no simple solution on how to finance and modernize the grid, but the key is to upgrade our existing one with new smart technologies that can gather information, analyze and communicate about it. We see a huge potential scenario for grid companies and it will be intriguing to see how the regulations and laws change in response to the adoption of distributed generation.
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