Technology solutions to change…

The energy of change

Technology solutions to change…

The future is here with smart grids

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The possibility of combining conventional electrical technology with information and communications technology – the famous ICTs – as well as with modern miniaturized control systems, makes it possible to expand and increase the ‘intelligence’ of the electrical systems we currently know. The new electrical systems offer new services, both for homes and companies, which will allow energy to be used more efficiently and safely. It is time for a new electrical scenario, made up of intelligent networks or smart grids.

New solutions for the operation of electrical networks are based on the use of communication channels and smart electronic devices that make a bidirectional flow of information and decentralised decision making possible. This allows a greater degree of interaction and coordination between consumers and electrical energy producers, leading to new relationship and business models between both sides. In liberalised and competitive markets, electrical energy doesn’t have a fixed price, but rather depends on the balance over time between supply and demand. Today, consumers can’t regulate and plan their consumption based on the price of electricity, at least not dynamically. Nevertheless, if it was possible to manage the energy supply in a home or company in an individualised way, with an exchange of information in real time between the generating and consuming sides, it would be possible to rationalise electrical energy usage which, currently, isn’t entirely optimised in the majority of cases due to a lack of automation and control along the value chain.

Smart control of electrical demand can deliver energy bill savings in homes and small businesses of up to 30 %.

The use of smart devices on both sides of the electrical line, with communication between them and the ability to programme actions according to surrounding conditions, will allow the creation of complex intelligent networks in communities, companies or in families, with a high capacity for interaction and intercommunication. All this will change the paradigm for energy use as we know it today. This new model will take on more importance as soon as distributed generation systems, for example those based on photovoltaic energy, become more prevalent in residential, commercial and industrial sectors. When that happens, the energy consumer will lose their traditional role, changing into a producer-consumer, that is, they will become a ‘prosumer’. In this scenario, the communication networks, those responsible for the exchange of information with the surroundings, and the smart systems, necessary for automated decision-making, will be fundamental in the correct operation of smart grids.

Smart Grids_City Lights

Currently, we are witnessing the beginning of the development of smart grids, although countries like the United States or the European Union already have them present in their R+D+i policies, whether public or in collaboration with private companies. In the United States, a research programme valued at 4.5 billion dollars has been launched on smart grids, while the EU has started up other specific initiatives that have community funding. An interesting project done on a European level was Enersip (Energy-saving information platform for generation and consumption networks) , where consumers demonstrated that interaction between the energy consumer and producer allowed for savings of up to 30 % in electrical consumption, which is equivalent to a 9 % reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Interconnected building networks, shared databases, renewable and distributed generation, energy storage, electric vehicles, smart homes, household robots, smart and programmable household appliances,…a group of new actors that will surely change the services offered by the sales and distribution companies, as well as the habits of citizens when it comes to energy consumption. And all of this, thinking only in the low-voltage grid. When this high degree of advanced automation and control extends to the medium-voltage distribution network, and even to the transmission networks that interconnect large high-voltage areas, it will be possible to get large benefits in safety and reliability of the networks, in energy management of companies, in the cost of energy and, to top it off, in the production processes.

Technological development of smart grids will entail investments of more than 10 billion dollars up to 2050.

Right now, there are two main handicaps to resolve in the development of smart grids. On the one hand are the large investments needed to develop all the opportunities now under consideration. The road map set out by the International Energy Agency (IEA) thinks that, only in R+D+i activities, it will be necessary to invest more than 10 billion dollars up to 2050 in the area of smart grids. On the other hand, a larger degree of involvement on the part of governments and institutions is needed. The important advances implied by smart grids can’t be materialised counting only on encouragement from private initiative. Rather, it is necessary to have public support, not only in financial terms but also with regard to social integration and regulatory standards.

Pedro Rodríguez Cortés Abengoa Research

Pedro Rodríguez Cortés,
Director of Technology of Power Systems in Abengoa Research.

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