ELECTRICITY GRIDS NEED A TECHNOLOGICAL MIRACLE,
We got used to living without stopping to understand how some of our most fundamental technologies work. Electricity is probably the most obvious of all of them. For a century, it became totally normal to have access to artificial light on a click. But even electric grids become obsolete. Ours, already in the third decade of the 21st century, are now more than ever in need of transformation. In how they work, and how we use them. Talking about how we produce electricity, and the amount of CO2 we humans emit into the atmosphere, Bill Gates once wrote that “we need energy miracles.” Today, this is more true than ever.
Electricity grids are becoming the largest bottleneck of the energy transition because nowadays they are tasked with much heavier duties than they did a century ago; technological evolution has taken us from using them to produce artificial light in our homes to using them to power everything in our lives, from air conditioners, heat pumps, electric cars and bicycles, hundreds of electronic gadgets, and thousands of industrial processes, and expecting them to also integrate local solar production and electricity storage. With an electricity grid whose design, in essence, has not been modified for 100 years, looking for energy miracles is not a luxury but an obligation.
In essence, the power grid system has remained unchanged for more than 100 years. Even with today’s innovation, operators have limited visibility into what is happening in the grid below 20,000 volts. The grid capacity cannot cope with today’s needs (full of electric cars and solar panels), and vast amounts of efforts and money are invested every year trying to accommodate a decades-old infrastructure in a society that is supposed to be future-proofed.
At Plexigrid we believe that the electricity distribution grids are in need of new powers. Powers that will help make those miracles come true.
We’ve called them SUPERPOWERS because they are …
SUPERPOWER 1. END TO END GRID VISIBILITY:
Distribution grid operators have critical information spread across multiple siloed systems. The GIS (Geographic Information System) contains the location and physical characteristics of each of the tens of thousands of kilometres of cables wired across a city. The ERP system contains additional asset and economic information. The grid SCADA system traditionally provides real time visibility down to 20,000 Volts but not below, where the feeders that power the different streets and individual households are located. Data from individual homes have not been accessible in an easy way for grid operators. But all over the world smart metering systems and low latency communication is being rolled out to collect the electricity consumption and generation of every customer across the grid.
Despite all available data, distribution grid operators have been blind on low voltage levels. This data needs to be brought to their fingertips, in real time, creating a comprehensive visualization of an electricity distribution grid. Information flowing freely, breaking organizational silos, providing new insights and decision support to operate the grid more efficient, with lower losses and increased availability.
SUPERPOWER 2: REAL TIME GRID ANALYTICS
Electricity grids cannot be overloaded without significant risks of causing major damage to equipment, or even national blackouts. Since grid operators don’t have access to real time information of the load in their low voltage grids, they install millions of devices to protect the system from an overload like fuses, switches and protection relays. These help disconnect the grid in case of a local overload or failure, protecting the larger grid but at the same time creating a local power outage.
To avoid an overload situation occurring in the first place, grid operators also massively over-dimension their grids adding grid capacity buffers of 100% or more. While this over-dimensioning is effective in reducing the amount of local outages, it is very inefficient from a cost perspective. In the end consumers are the ones paying for all this overcapacity via the electricity grid fee.
Grid operators need real-time analytics capabilities of the millions of kilometres of low voltage networks. This will have profound implications in how electricity distribution grids can be operated. Real time performance that allows for instantaneous computation of constraint violations like overloads, bottlenecks, unbalances and other critical analytics, across every inch of the grid. By taking away the uncertainty of the actual loading of the grid, the grid operators can run the system closer to its limits and the need to deploy overcapacity is significantly reduced. Investment decisions can be optimized to target the actual bottlenecks based on facts rather than speculation.
Truly game changing!
SUPERPOWER 3: FLEXIBILITY MANAGEMENT
Dynamic allocation of grid capacity allows distribution grid operators to connect more renewable energy from solar and wind to the grid and enables faster deployment of charging stations for electric vehicles. Grid bottlenecks and congestions that these assets are causing can be solved by mobilizing the flexibility of individual customers, instead of building more grids with overcapacity. When a section of the grid starts to approach its maximum limits, information in real time is required about the available local flexible loads that can be rescheduled. This could be charging of electric cars, heat pumps, air conditioners or batteries. The right combination of flexible loads can then be selected to resolve the bottleneck or congestion in the fastest way and at the lowest possible cost.
While renewable energy costs have been reduced over the last decade between 70% to 95% (making renewables cost competitive with fossil fuels), grid costs have gone in the opposite direction. Grid costs per MWh have gone up between 40% to 90% throughout Europe, America and Asia over the last decade.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. According to the International Energy Agency study “Net Zero 2050”, 500-800 billion USD annually will be needed from 2030 onwards to make the grid fit for the energy transition. As these costs get passed on to consumers, grid costs will become the single largest component of the electricity bill. But this trend can be reversed.
By combining the three superpowers, 35%-40% of these investments in grid capacity could be saved. These savings could be shared with electricity consumers in exchange for their flexibility, making the energy transition faster, more affordable and more sustainable for billions of people. A win-win for everybody.