What Next Smart Grid Development? Challenges and Opportunities
Most of the world’s electricity system was built when primary energy was relatively inexpensive. Grid reliability was assured by having excess generation capacity in the system with unidirectional electricity flow to consumers from centrally dispatched power plants. Investments in the electric system were made to meet increasing demand; not to fundamentally change the way the system works.
Moving to a smart grid infrastructure can help utilities to address some of the challenges that they are now striving to overcome.
Related: What Next for Smart Grid Development?
Here’s a quick summary of four of those trends with their challenges:
1. Changing Supply:
Europe‘s significant increase in renewable generation has been a blessing for the global climate. The EU’s target for 2020 is 20% production from renewables. The good news is that some countries are pushing hard. For instance, Denmark has already gone well past 50% of power production generated by renewables, mainly wind power. However, unpredictable production creates intermittent supplies, since most green electrons are produced only when the wind is blowing or when the sun is shining. Usually, wind power production does not match up well with peak demand times. Therefore, either too much or not enough capacity is in the system. In addition, some renewable sources feed into a part of the system, the medium and low voltage grid, that today is not constantly monitored (unlike the high voltage transmission grid). Thus, inadequate information is available on the electricity that is being fed into those systems.
2. Changing demand patterns:
In the past, demand was stable and predictable. Due to variable energy costs and growing environmental concerns, customers have been changing their demand behavior.
Not only are unpredictable supply sources a challenge, but so too are the fluctuations on the demand side. As a consequence, it’s becoming more and more complex to maintain the electricity system’s reliability – the key ingredient in avoiding outages.
3. Regulation / Compliance:
Utilities must face up to the twin dilemma: addressing increasing energy demand while simultaneously reducing their overall carbon footprint. As governments across the globe have been imposing stricter restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, this makes traditional generation sources like coal more expensive. Another example: the U.S. federal government now mandates cybersecurity compliance for critical infrastructure protection.