The transition towards a low-carbon economy will change both
the way power is produced and the way it is consumed. Smart grids are an
essential element to facilitate this transformation.
Take the UK, where the government is committed to stringent
carbon dioxide reduction targets. These can only be met by massively increasing
electricity use – which currently accounts for about a third of all energy
consumption – from renewables at the expense of oil and gas.
Peak demand on the UK grid is currently 60GW, but by 2050,
the government estimates this will increase six-fold as demand for electric
cars and household heating soars.
To meet this demand, more pylons and cabling will be needed,
adding up to £1000 a year to consumer bills.
And it’s not just about higher demand and cost, as renewable
power sources such as wind and solar are variable – when the wind doesn’t blow
and the sun doesn’t shine, little or no power is generated.
As Mike Wilks, at Poyry Managing Consulting, says: "We
need more flexibility in our energy mix."
Countries the world over, and particularly those investing
heavily in the green sector, are facing the same problem, and the solutions are
few and far between.
Increasing fast-acting generation in order to fill energy
gaps would seem the smart thing to do, but as most generators of this type,
such as diesel turbines, emit CO2, they are somewhat counterproductive.
A winning solution
There are two ways to solve this critical problem, and both
are attracting huge sums of money in the market.
The first is energy storage. Sounds simple enough: storing energy
generated during periods of low demand to use during periods of high demand.
Not only does storage help overcome the problem of variable supply from
renewable energy sources, but it allows electricity grids to operate more
efficiently and cost effectively.
Storage allows the system to be run at average load rather
than peak load.
And the savings are huge: Imperial College London’s Energy
Features Lab estimates that energy storage technologies could generate savings of
£10 billion a year by 2050.
There are a host of new technologies to store energy – from pumped
hydro to powerful batteries – currently being developed around the world.
Estimates by Lux Research suggest the global industry for
energy storage could be worth £100 billion in the next few years.
The most advanced smart grid technologies are in electrical
transmission: Flexible alternating
current transmission systems devices enable existing transmission lines to
deliver maximum power, and help stabilize the grid with precise power control. High-voltage direct current technology
can deliver long-distance power with low losses on land and under water, and
connect asynchronous grids. Wide area
monitoring systems track critical system parameters to prevent development
of dangerous instability in the network. Supervisory
control and data acquisition systems analyse real-time grid conditions,
providing data for fast power adjustments.
Smart grid technology is not a single silver bullet but
rather a collection of existing and emerging technologies working together.
The big rollout
The rollout of smart
meters in the UK is being coordinated by the Department of Energy and Climate
They may have been introduced to end the costly need for manually
reading meters, but smart meters have developed into far more than that. By
monitoring constantly energy use in households and linking directly to smart
appliances, the time will soon come when these meters take over some of our
decisions about energy use.
The real change will come when there are enough smart meters
to know when to turn things off.
For instance, the meter will be able to turn a fridge off
automatically for short periods when electricity is needed elsewhere in the
system, or decide when to switch on a washing machine in order to balance the
grid as a whole.
The smart metering program aims to cover all homes and small
businesses by 2020.
Energy storage and smart grids mean energy generation and distribution
no longer have to be done at a national level – individual households and
communities are now able to control their own power, and with it the price they
pay and the security of supply.
IT services company T-systems sees Britain as a potential
European leader in smart networks. Consumer and industry groups are looking
forward to benefits to the economy and to the environment that smart technology
can bring. In its responses to consultations on the smart metering rollout in
Britain, T-Systems says this needs to be looked at to achieve those benefits as
fully and swiftly as possible.
“What are we trying to achieve – remote meter reading giving
accurate bills? That is relatively easy,” says head of smart metering Dr Svan
Lembke. “The difficult part is the creation of a scalable, secure communication
infrastructure with multiple directions of communication that can analyse data
and enable consumers to manage their own energy consumption and to play a part
in Britain’s transition to a lowcarbon economy. As a consumer in this country
myself, I know what I would choose.”