Smartgrids - smart choice or distant dream?

Duncan Botting, ABB UK’s head of technology & business development, looks at the factors driving the development of the power grid of tomorrow.

Traditionally, our power needs have been met by large, centralised generation units, with the electricity they produce transported to the end-user by very reliable transmission grids feeding into tapered distribution networks. But we now need to rethink this delivery mechanism in the light of the new drivers for change that affect the industry. These include the demand for cleaner, renewable power and the need for greater energy-efficiency.

Increased Energy-efficiency
Centralised electricity generation systems waste, on average, over 60 per cent of their energy as heat before they deliver any useful energy to the end-user. Additional losses in the transmission and distribution networks only add to the need to bring the source of the electricity closer to where it is used. This has resulted in a huge increase in demand for distributed generation solutions, such as micro-generation in homes and industry, to be linked with heating and cooling (micro-combined heat and power, CHP) that can increase total useful energyefficiency levels to over 85 per cent.

Locally Generated Renewables
Locally generated renewable sources, such as wind, solar and micro-CHP, are also creating new and challenging issues, especially for distribution network operators (DNOs). For example, DNOs might have to cope with twoway power flows, with power now being exported from what used to be only a load centre. Furthermore, new environmentally clean centralised generation, such as clean coal (using carbon capture and storage techniques), nuclear and more traditional gas solutions have to be balanced with distributed generation. This requires the DNOs to look at delivering networks and services that can deal with this new paradigm. They have to consider factors such as constraint management and system balancing requirements that previously were managed at the transmission level.

Worldwide R&D
Governments worldwide are accelerating research, development and deployment projects to realise active network management. Examples include the Intelligrid Initiative led by EPRI in the USA and the SmartGrids Technology Platform sponsored by the EU leading to Framework 6 and now Framework 7 research programmes.
ABB has been instrumental in leading the thinking behind this exciting new technologyintensive area and is heavily involved in developing Europe’s SmartGrids Vision, Strategic Research Agenda, Strategic Deployment Document (under preparation), and the UK Government/Regulator-chaired Horizon Scanning. We are also working on collaborative projects with our customers and leading academic institutions around the world to deliver improved products and solutions for active networks.

Practical Deployment
In the Spring 2007 issue of FFWD we highlighted ‘Aura-NMS’ a collaborative project between ABB, EDF Energy, Scottish Power and seven leading universities (Imperial College London, University of Strathclyde, University of Manchester, University of Bath, University of Edinburgh, Loughborough University and Durham University) to develop an automated regional active network management system based on ABB’s COM600 technology. This will also include the deployment of ABB’s latest battery storage (DynoPower) technology to determine the best use of such technology in an active network. This project will provide an important step in understanding the Smartgrid of tomorrow. It is just one example of the need for research and development projects that include the practical deployment of equipment on the power network. This approach helps to build a far greater understanding of how these complex distribution systems can be tested and integrated into ‘real’ power networks.

Transmission Project Networks
The Aura-NMS addresses the need to make distribution power networks ‘active’. However, distribution networks are not the only frontier in the Smartgrids of tomorrow. The European Energy Policy published in the last legislative package released in September 2007 indicates the need for a common ambition for a pan-European approach to power transmission network integration. The ability to interconnect the national systems of the 27 member states in a reliable and controllable manner is recognised not only for security of supply but also for trading.
As well as providing solutions for Europe’s increasing level of intermittent renewable power resources (mandated to reach a connected level of 20 per cent by 2020) the Smartgrid will also need to handle the increased interconnectivity of a pan- European network that will probably extend into offshore networks and undersea interconnectors.
ABB’s Flexible AC Transmission Systems (FACTS) and HVDC Light solutions are able to meet many of the requirements of European policy and these proven technologies are already assisting many of our global customers at the transmission level. Standards such as IEC 61850 will also play an important part in ensuring the interoperability of equipment from different suppliers. This will facilitate the introduction of multi-vendor solutions and allow coherent development of the Smartgrid.

The Need for Flexibility
Much of the equipment being deployed on power networks today will probably still be in service in 40 or 50 years. This presents a special challenge to tomorrow’s Smartgrid. If utilities are deploying inflexible products that cannot be integrated into the Smartgrid solution, this may slow down or even prevent its deployment because of insufficient functionality.

From Passive to Active
In order to manage these increasing demands, distribution networks will need to be transformed from the traditional ‘passive’ design (planned for particular peak load and usage as fit-and-forget networks) to a more ‘active’ or dynamically adapting network. Features of this intelligent or ‘smartgrid’ network of the future might include:
• Virtual power plants (VPPs) consisting of a large number of small generator units, in residential properties managed as one large power source – creating new players in the trading scene, known as aggregators.
• The DNO managing the connection of smart ‘white goods’ in the home (such as refrigerators and freezers) to provide active/reactive load control in their local network, taking smart metering to a new level of sophistication.
• Energy storage solutions to smooth capacity constraint issues.

Smart Thinking Needed
Across Europe the replacement of end-of-life equipment that was installed during the 1950/60s is ramping up. Combine this with the new targets that governments are setting for heat and renewables, and the time for some smart thinking is upon us. Like-for-like replacement of products and solutions will not deliver the innovation required to ensure the lifeblood of the European economy – energy – is maintained.
ABB is working hard with the many stakeholders involved to ensure the technology to achieve the shared Smartgrid’s vision is in place and ready for deployment. Smartgrids will happen, the challenge is to make them reality sooner rather than later.

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    Developing the smart grids of tomorrow
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