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Powering the future with smart grids

Sep 23, 2017 By Gary Maidment, Huawei

A growing population, greater affluence, and energy-hungry emerging economies are demanding more power than ever. To offset environmental and resource pressures, smart grids that use digital tech to deliver electricity can work alongside renewable energy solutions to optimize the delivery of electricity and put power back in the hands of consumers. 

Increase In Power Consumption From 1990 to 2040 in Quadrillion Btu

Source: eia.gov

Running low

There are various problems with legacy power systems. First, the scattered locations of power distribution nodes and the complex architecture of distribution networks inhibit remote control and management. Second, manually reading the millions of smart meters installed in homes and buildings is extremely costly, irregularly performed, and frequently inaccurate. Moreover, with consumers kept in the dark, it’s hard for them to make changes to adjust their usage patterns, cut bills, and contribute en masse to a healthier planet. Third, major faults like blackouts are extremely disruptive, and can affect core infrastructure like banking, communications networks, manufacturing, and emergency response. They can also damage data and disrupt computer services and cause food to spoil. In the case of hospitals, even short blackouts can have life-threatening consequences. 

In India in 2012, more than half a billion people suffered the biggest power blackout in history, the result of excessive demands placed on an inadequate infrastructure. Traffic was plunged into chaos, with traffic lights, subways, and rail systems out of action. Around 200 miners were trapped underground in east India, and nurses in one hospital on the fringes of Delhi had to operate life-saving equipment manually after back-up generators failed. 

Blackouts are also very costly. In the US, for example, even the short one that occur a few times a year cost between US$104 billion and US$164 billion.

Powering up with IoT

A grid is a network of transmission lines, substations, and transformers that generate, transmit, transform, and distribute power from a power plant to homes and businesses. A grid with digital technology becomes smart and delivers considerable value through solutions for energy delivery like power transmission, distribution automation, IoT, and smart metering.

The Value of Smart Grids

A smart, high-voltage electricity utility grid needs to be active so that it can respond to changes in real time, collecting data from power transmission networks and smart meters to make real-time changes. Advances in cloud computing, databases, and analytical tools enable predictive and prescriptive analytics on big data from Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), and commercial and consumer IoT devices. 

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and affordable computing power have laid the foundation for robust smart grids, which include coordinated analysis and response by connected devices in a way that was once impossible.

IoT tech communicates a device’s status to other systems to optimize and control assets, increase safety, control the grid, and basically keep the lights on. The impact of IoT on the energy industry will be huge. IoT will connect new physical devices to the power grid and to the data networks that support it. Rooftop solar systems, smart home energy solutions, connected electric vehicles, fuel cells, home battery storage, smart meters, smart thermostats, and smart appliances are changing local distribution grids into bidirectional, multi-party energy marketplaces for energy that will replace the old one-way system for delivering energy.

A wide range of software platforms are now available for smart grids that can cut the cost and development time for IoT solutions by offering standardized components that can be shared across industry verticals to integrate devices, networks, and applications. Most of these IoT platforms can be categorized as connectivity management, device management, or application enablement platforms, with some product overlap.

Globally, many power companies can benefit from significant advances in distributed intelligence and analytics to modernize their grids and use the broader connectivity to open up opportunities in smart cities. 

Smart meters

Deploying AMI in a smart grid infrastructure moves away from inaccurate, inefficient, and error-prone manual meter reading, and improves how companies and consumers interact. Power companies can precisely track how much power is used, while consumers can make real-time changes to optimize power use.

The Huawei AMI solution comprises a master station, data collection platform, WAN (Wide Area Network), and NAN (Neighborhood Area Network).

The Value of Smart Metering

Smart metering solutions in action

IoT and AMI in Nigeria: Slow payments, electricity theft, a line loss rate of 46 percent, a decaying power structure, and manual meter readings that obscured faults were just some of the problems affecting Africa’s most populous nation prior to 2015. Huawei was charged with reducing waste and boosting supply using IoT solutions. The results include cutting line loss rate to 11 percent; enabling electricity theft to be tracked and fees retrieved; collecting money in advance with pre-payment services; allowing e-bills in various formats; and automating meter reading, which cut labor costs by 90 percent.

AMI in Tunisia: In 2017, Huawei will deploy its AMI solution in Tunisia for Tunisian Electricity and Gas Company (STEG). Metered data management software and technology will connect smart meters with STEG, optimize revenue collection through accurate billing, and cut electricity theft from meter tampering. The solution will also enable STEG to execute new business models to meet the nation’s energy-efficiency initiatives.

An energetic 2025

In the next ten years, many of the trends we see today will be more mature. Digital transformation will produce higher-quality data based on better connectivity and increased computing power. The design, planning, transmission, distribution, and use of wind and solar solutions will be vastly more efficient. The cost of solar PV will drop by a predicted 40 percent over the next decade, and the use of graphene in solar PV cells will increase performance, with a predicted increase of efficiency of up to 18 percent. By 2025 solar PV is likely to be the cheapest energy source in many places. 

The number of buildings that produce more energy than they consume will become mainstream, especially as initiatives like HouseZero by The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) gather in momentum. Smart design, green materials, and solar power will work with ICT systems to maximize efficiency. Smart metering alongside electric vehicles, fuel cells, and smart appliances and devices where users can flexibly configure power use will generate more energy than is consumed, will allow users to potentially sell excess electricity to power companies. Increasingly managed by software, grids will start to manage themselves, for example, by self-adjusting to reduce losses, respond to voltage variations, and self-optimize to avoid electricity disturbances. 

Able to source, see, and control how much electricity they use thanks to digital technology, consumers will have much more control over their energy habits. In the energy sector, digital transformation is also a customer-first journey.

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