Electric utilities must prepare for new roles in the smart city transformation

February 22, 2017

The modern electric distribution system is dramatically evolving towards an intelligent integrated system-of-systems. The capability for the common utility to monitor and control the electric grids at sub-second intervals using intelligent feedback loops, increases the reliability of the electric system while generating value. Utilities and third parties must determine how their business model can adapt, extract value, and still provide the reliability, security, and empowerment that the customer expects, if not requires.

Transformation in electric utility

Electric utilities are facing a need and opportunity to transform their business due to the bidirectional nature of distributed generation and energy storage. This is just one of several fundamental changes that the smart cities movement is driving to reshape how fundamental services are delivered and managed.

Goals for Smart City Programs

  • Increase efficiency.
  • Boost resiliency.
  • Maximize performance of interconnected systems.
  • Higher quality of life in communities.

Key Targets for Energy Storage

Energy storage will increase dramatically at:

  • Commercial offices
  • Industrial facilities
  • Large university campuses
  •  Hospitals and government offices

Smart Distribution Networks

The distribution network supplies electricity directly from the transmission system to end users, and will need to undergo significant developments to cope with the de-carbonisation of electricity generation, transport and heat. The distribution network, historically designed for unidirectional power flows and with very limited observability, will need to accommodate increased levels of small to medium scale distributed generation such as photovoltaic systems and wind farms. Meanwhile, electrical energy demand is set to rise with the electrification of transport and heat, putting additional strains on the network.

The Evolution of Smart Integrated Infrastructure

All of these changes are prompting the need for more integrated infrastructure that has intelligence built in, and for data analytics that can help optimize current and future operations.

Smart Integrated Infrastructure focuses on the convergence of physical infrastructure, communications, data and analytics. Infrastructure is getting more distributed, more interconnected, and more intelligent, and this convergence of infrastructure and data analytics leads clients to system wide synergies.

The goal of Smart Integrated Infrastructure is to increase efficiency and resiliency, and to maximize performance when dealing with distributed, interconnected systems. The benefits lead to a higher quality of life in smart cities.

Smart cities are places that are safer, cleaner, healthier and more economically viable. The utility has a pretty significant role in the manifestation of a smart city because electric power is a fundamental element of any city.

Making the Smart Grid Even Smarter

Two major components of making the electric grid work even smarter is “balance” and “awareness.” One  does not happen without the other.

In order for those efficiencies to work, there has to be a lot more awareness of what is happening on the grid itself, so that power demand and production can be balanced with one another. The margin of excess is minimized, so you are not overproducing nor underproducing.

Achieving that ideal balance also avoids the use of electricity curtailment, in which generators for renewables such as wind farms are turned off, because they are producing too much power for the immediate needs.

That is where the awareness comes in – through the use of sensors and measurement controls to generate data – to help realize that balance. Those devices and the communications fabric behind them allow that data to be transported from the points of measurement back to the operations center, and then to be analyzed to come up with actionable information for grid control, stability and optimization.

The Electricity Grid of the Future

In the future, many homes and business will  be using solar panels, wind turbines and other new technologies to generate energy, as well as to consume it. To effi­ciently manage the
many sources of supply and demand, utility companies will need a network of connected sensors that provides real-time visibility and control of the electricity grid.

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