5 innovations for electrical grids

Olivier Pinto Olivier Pinto Nov 7, 2023

nexans, 5 innovations for electrical grids, grids

The tipping point.

It is now widely acknowledged that the electrification of the world is one of the most impactful levers to address the challenges of climate change. Yet, sustainable electrification will not happen without efficient, resilient, flexible, and reliable power grids.

Yet, it seems a tipping point was reached. Policymakers have realized that grids must undergo massive transformation and investments to avoid becoming the bottleneck of the energy transition.

Modernization programs are becoming increasingly urgent as the grid that a decarbonized and electrified world needs differs greatly from the grids built post World War II and on which we still rely today.

Operating the grid of tomorrow implies that Distribution System Operators (DSO) will need to address four pressing challenges : integrate renewable energy sources, avoid risks of blackouts by reaching new reliability standards, transition to a grid of digital objects with sensors and software powered by algorithms (AI), and cope with a context where scarcity in financing power, the human workforce, and raw material supply will become the norm.

Five key innovations will play a central role in this transformation.

Virtual Power Plants and ADMS/DERMS

Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) as well as ADMS (Advanced Distribution Management System) and DERMS (Distributed Energy Resource Management System), will help balance power grids, reduce energy costs and improve grid reliability and efficiency.

Such disruptive innovations will be able to orchestrate the intermittent electrical flows throughout cabling systems and their connections and ultimately create visibility on the network to make invisible flows visible.

Electricity storage systems

Energy storage systems provide grid operators with the flexibility to temporarily store the energy and release it during peak demand times, ensuring a consistent power supply and reducing the need for backup fossil fuel-based power plants.

This implies the development of new intelligent cable systems with specific safety and protections features, to optimize installation, operating and maintenance costs.

IoT & sensors: Building the internet of energy

Technologies such as sensors enabling a comprehensive and granular understanding of the real conditions and dynamics of the network are crucial for operational crews and managers to make enlightened decisions not only based on experience and intuition but also based on real-time and historical data from the field. With the advent of new sensing technologies, assets such as cables systems or overhead lines that were historically considered as passive are progressively able to convey information.

The data and information that smart substations, cables and transformer monitoring systems share about their health status, the power load that they are submitted to or the environment around them are precious information for operational teams to optimize maintenance activities, identify potential fire hazards issues, or detect and localize potential outages before they even occur.

Digital Twins: Converting complexity into decisions

Digital twins are a powerful technology that enables seizing this new system complexity and making sense and meaning to the overwhelming mass of information and data the modern grid generates. They represent a revolutionary tool to foster and simplify communication and collaboration among experts and reach shared decision consensus.

In this context, Digital Twins have become the most precious tool for electricity grid asset managers to unlock the full potential of combining the data collected from their infrastructure and the wealth of know-how from the teams on the field.

Artificial Intelligence: AI eats complexity for breakfast

At the crossroads of these innovations, artificial intelligence permeates throughout most of the technologies that the modern grid ventures.

From congestion management, failure prediction, and detection of fraudulent activities to anticipating production and consumption behaviors, AI and machine learning algorithms are expected to unleash fantastic opportunities to improve grid efficiency, reliability, resilience, and security. AI strengthens the decision-making processes and enriches experience and knowledge with comprehensive information from real-world data.

It is commonly agreed that power grids are the largest machines ever built. The global grid is a web of 80 million kilometers of cables and lines, enough to go to the moon and back … one hundred times.

The energy transition that the world is engaging in order to fight climate change needs massive investments in the transmission and distribution electricity grids.

But modernizing grids is more than just a matter of adding new lines. It also means harnessing the power of innovations, which will facilitate the seamless integration of new renewable power plants, manage intermittency and variability of solar and wind energy, and exploit the full potential of digital technologies so that assets become smarter, last longer, install faster and use less energy and raw materials to produce and operate.

About the author

Olivier Pinto

Olivier Pinto

Olivier Pinto is Nexans Innovation Director in charge of services and digital solutions for power grids. He leads a team of grid experts developing a portfolio of innovative offerings designed to solve the issues and address the challenges faced by electrical network operators, leveraging on a solid ecosystem of technology partners. Olivier joined Nexans in 2001 and has held various R&D, operational and sales & marketing positions. He holds a M.Sc. from the School of Chemistry, Physics & Electronics of Lyon, France.

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