Grid flexibility and digitalization - integral to the transition to clean energy
As intermittent renewable energy becomes a larger share of the world's power, grid flexibility will become increasingly instrumental. According to the European Commission Joint Research Center, compared to today, grid flexibility requirements will more than double by 2030 and be seven times as large by 2050.
As clean energy transition advances, grid digitalization will be an enabler alongside flexibility management. In recent years, grid digitalization investments have progressively increased from 12% of total grid investment in 2016 to 20% in 2022, driven by system operators requiring digital solutions to improve the management of the grid with real-time monitoring and control of energy flows for transmission and distribution networks.
Grid modernization is imperative to accommodate the expected electrification growth. Moving away from fossil-fuel-based electricity means that today's grid must be able to integrate large share of renewable energy resources and address associated technical challenges.
Virtual power plants: The big move for electric generation
A new generation of distributed electricity resources (DERs) is gaining momentum as a way to solve the increasing demand for clean, renewable energy.
Advances in battery storage, EV and solar technology, coupled with the desire of utilities to expand renewable power, mean Virtual Power Plants (VPP) are fast becoming a favored approach to meeting growing electricity demand and the need for more resilient power systems.
A VPP is both a technical and transactional platform connecting a vast number of diverse resources to deliver, in seconds, a megawatt-scale power response to an instruction, reducing complexity for grid operators. In addition to the technical aspects, it provides the transactional flow by remunerating each resource for its contribution to the final service receiving payment from the Transmission System Operator (TSO), Distribution Grid Operator (DSO) or power market upon the available opportunity. Revenue stacking is gaining importance in delivering value to the DERs owners.
Because a VPP can provide power by tapping into the Distributed Energy Resources (DERs)—building blocks of VPPs—it can quickly balance supply and demand, thus avoiding potential power outages and reducing energy costs to the end user. In recent years, VPPs have increasingly been implemented in residential and commercial buildings to attract new buyers and provide reliable, lower-cost electricity. Even consumers can join a VPP. As an example, last year, Tesla launched its new power utility provider service in Texas that lets Powerwall owners sell excess energy back to the grid.
DER: paradigm shift in energy distribution
The distribution grid is facing unprecedented transformation as the growth in DERs increases. This transformation will require new levels of grid management and monitoring. The Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) is an essential component of the modern control center. Instrumental will be the digitalization of power flow observability, fault detection isolation and restoration, network reconfiguration and outage management systems. The new challenge of the distribution grid will predominantly be at the low-voltage level, where a greater level of observability is needed and requires the flexibility from DERs. This is where the Distributed Energy Resources Management System (DERMS) complements the ADMS by enabling a grid aware DER flexibility orchestration down to low-voltage level.
Grid digitalization: a journey
Realizing this digitalized future grid is a transformation journey with some key points we can highlight.
The first is to understand the network’s topology and the grid’s ADMS and DERMS platforms to see if the overall network is being used to its full potential. The second is the observability of the network at low-voltage level. The Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems predominantly cover medium-voltage, while investments to monitor and control at low-voltage levels are often lacking. Yet, data driven approach tapping into smart meters or other available monitoring devices can overcome this limitation enhancing capabilities offered through the ADMS and DERMS.
The third is the interoperability and cybersecurity of the VPP, ADMS, and DERMS. Interoperability is essential to enable a smooth operation between these different systems. Cybersecurity is vital as the connections between grids and third-party operators increase.
Finally, it is important to ensure that grid equipment and cable systems, in particular, are sized appropriately for variability. Optimizing resource allocation is essential to ensuring future network expansions.
To solve the lack of network observability, Nexans is collaborating with Sensewaves to create a computable grid topology for DSOs. Sensewaves' Artificial Intelligence-based analytics software leverages smart meter data (or other sources) to enhance planning and asset reliability (particularly cable systems) for DSOs. This unique combination of data analytics and AI provides invaluable insights beyond operational management typically offered through the ADMS and DERMS platforms.
Grid modernization is imperative to adapt to the expected electrification growth. Moving away from fossil-fuel-based electricity means that today's grid must be able to accommodate the interconnection of renewables. New technologies in distributing, transmitting, and managing clean energy will play an instrumental role in reducing carbon emissions.
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