The emergence of distributed generation and isolated micro grids are creating the need for new systems and processes in IT and smart devices for ensuring higher efficiencies.
As a fulcrum of modern development, technology in electricity transmission and distribution (T&D) has evolved it into a highly complex and reliable system-matching in real-time the demand-supply gap all round the year, while optimising generation costs, besides generating price signals to justify sustained investment in capacity growth over the years.
In its energy outlook for 2035, British Petroleum (BP) forecasts that world energy demand will grow by 37 per cent, with India and China accounting for half of that growth. It also says that inputs to power generation will account for ~60 per cent of that growth. Within this, there are two themes that are emerging û renewable energy sources (can be called, renewables) and increasing energy efficiency.
The BP report suggests that energy intensity per unit of GDP will reduce because of increased efficiency, however, energy usage per capita will go up with rapid urbanisation and electrification of the developing world. It also projects renewables to be the fastest growing source of power.
India has set a target to increase renewable production from the current levels of ~36 gigawatts (GW) to 170 GW by the end of 2022. This is similar to the revolution that countries like Spain and Germany have already been through and the US is rapidly moving towards.
This is leading to a few very significant implications for information technology (IT) in the power industry.
1.Renewables have created a new world of challenges for the grid and utilities Our grids were set up for a few centralised locations of generation and massive distribution networks to carry that electricity. However, with the emergence of rooftop solar etc., distributed generation and isolated micro-grids are becoming very common and there is an increasing number of ´prosumers´ (consumers who are also producers).
The other obvious challenge with renewables is their intermittency. Wind speed could slow down or sudden cloud cover could reduce renewable production significantly, requiring other generators to quickly respond to fill the gap created. Also, earlier, the fossil fuel-based plants used to ramp up a few gigawatts to manage variations during the day.
However, with renewables taking over the afternoon load, the rate of ramp up needed in the evening is becoming significantly more. See below a curve that has been labelled as the duck curve (created by California grid operator) which shows how severe they expect this to become by 2020.
a.This means that the grid operators and the utilities will need improved Energy Management Systems that can keep track of the ever changing grid. They will need to be able to handle the intermittent and distributed nature of generation. This will require managing significantly higher amount of real-time synchrophaser data etc., to closely monitor the grid to ensure reliability.
b.They will need advanced tools to forecast weather and its impact on generation. Algorithms like neural networks will be used to predict demand and generation variation, based on wind, sun, rainfall etc.
c.They will need real-time optimisation toolsets to be able to look at the generation stack and for every five minutes based on network constraints will decide which generators to commit and which demand response levers to utilise to balance supply and demand while ensuring minimal cost.
d.They will need increasingly intuitive real-time integrated visualisations that can pull data from disparate sources like the forecasting tool, market pricing, order management system, outage management system, transmission management systems and the energy management systems (EMS) to help operators manage their grid reliably.
Along with the IT technology, there is hope that as the battery technologies evolve, the challenges with electricity storage and intermittency of generation and consumption will become easier to manage. However, economic grid storage is still years away and till then, tools like these will be critical to reliably manage the changing nature of the grids.
2.Efficiency and need for lower cost of power are driving a big change in consumer and grid behaviour
a.Use of energy efficient appliances and practices are taking over. There is an increasing trend in usage of building energy management software to track and optimise energy usage and cost.
b.Also, consumers are realising that they themselves can do some very simple things to reduce their power bills. In cases when demand is more than supply, there used to be two options - either increase supply or reduce demand. Till recently, in the developed world, it was typically handled by increasing supply and in the countries which had limited supply, load shedding was used to reduce demand. Now, consumers can register to voluntarily reduce their demand in such an event to help balance the grid and get paid for this (called demand response). The grids can now remotely control units that register for demand response and automatically reduce load when needed.
c.On the other hand, consumers can also choose to change their usage patterns using smart devices to move their power usage from costlier part of the day to times when power is cheaper. This is being made possible by two enablers - the revolution of smart meters and connected homes in which a smart meter can record power usage for every minute and send that back to the utility.
It can also use information about variable pricing during the day to decide which appliances to start or shut e.g. start your washing machine (a smart device) automatically when the power prices are low.
d.The data being collected for these meters is of significant volume and use of big data analytics is helping utilities make sense of this data to help recommend for how users can manage their electricity bills better. Some even offer recommendations on power efficient appliances to help them reduce electricity costs. This opens up a lot of opportunities for companies to innovate to build solutions to analyze consumer behaviour, integrate with smart devices and help reduce costs. This also means that grid management is becoming increasingly complex, bi-directional and requires sophisticated real-time data monitoring and decision support tools to work effectively.
Author: Aditya Gandhi, Director, Sapient Global Markets (India)