Let the Smart Energy transition begin…Feb 08, 2023
The smart energy transition is going to require more than a strong vision to achieve the ambitious goals and objectives defined in global directives and initiatives, such as the European Commission’s Clean Energy Package (CEP), US Green New Deal, the European Green Deal, and the Paris Climate Agreement.
While these initiatives do a great job of setting high-level objectives to address climate and energy concerns, we need investment, planning, infrastructure, and hard work to drive us forward in the smart energy transition.
A key component of the current energy transition is to build on the foundation that some smart metering systems can provide.
Investing in smart energy foundations
We are starting to see a trend toward leveraging smart metering investments beyond core billing applications where Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Systems can also be utilized for:
- Load conservation
- Demand management
- Loss reduction
- Renewables and distributed generation integration
- Low voltage network monitoring
- Phase balancing
- Transformer optimization
- Outage and restoration management
- Energy pricing and payment options
- Ability to address other energy transition concerns
However, Distribution System Operators (DSOs), who are responsible for operating and maintaining the low-voltage grid, may need to make further capital outlays to leverage their previous investments to assist with the smart energy transition. Simultaneously, DSOs need to operate their businesses profitably and cannot excessively spend money without a return to their investors.
For two decades, the industry has been promoting the smart energy transition. However, most utilities, due to regulation, policy, and other business issues, have not appropriately acted and prepared for it. They are not ready for this transition. Unfortunately, this situation does not have a quick fix.
Consumers, communities, and businesses in many countries have invested in distributed generation and renewables, such as solar or wind generation, but learn from their DSO that the distribution grid is not able to connect and accept their feed-in renewable energy. Many distribution networks simply do not have the capacity and/or intelligence to manage integration with distributed generation.
Knowledge is key in driving the smart energy transition
Frequently, DSOs lack information regarding the low-voltage grid including operating data at the secondary distribution transformer level and at the feeder level. Even if they can collect key data, DSOs do not possess the organizational structure to utilize it.
There is often a separation of objectives between the metering department and the operations team responsible for the distribution network. Traditionally, operations have been focused on medium and high-voltage networks. As a result, utilities have not prepared for the significant changes in dynamics associated with the low-voltage distribution network.
For example, DSOs may now be experiencing streets or neighborhoods with multiple consumers that possess electrical vehicles and/or photovoltaics (e.g. solar panels). Obviously, the distribution grid was not originally designed to support these new use cases. However now, the focus needs to include the low-voltage distribution network because that is where renewables and distributed generation are being introduced.
While the various country and regional directives may assert that consumer and community rights need to be assured, such as the ability to generate energy, feed-in energy, and sell energy, many distribution networks are not able to support these new technologies.
It is important for DSOs to ensure a high level of reliability and service to their customers. This becomes more challenging with the addition of renewable energy sources, electric vehicles, and distributed generation.
Smart metering systems can help improve reliability and address low-voltage network issues. While many DSOs have installed smart meters, they implemented their system mainly for meter reading and billing support, not to provide insight into the distribution grid.
In addition, not all smart metering systems are able to provide visibility and intelligence about the energy flows and power quality information associated with the distribution network.
Advanced technology solutions
The NES smart metering system is one solution that can provide the needed advanced intelligence and functionality for this energy transition. DSOs that have deployed the NES AMI System can use smart meters as intelligent low-voltage distribution sensors providing extensive data and statistics about energy flows and power quality data. This includes detailed information about grid topology, power outages, equipment failures, transformer and phase imbalances, import and export energy flows, power quality data, and much more.
The NES System can utilize this data to highlight trends and identify changes in the grid before they become a problem, as well as help consumers better manage their energy use and costs. The solution can also provide visibility of the low-voltage grid topology and connectivity, as well as deliver measurements from within the low-voltage grid.
With the availability of information from the low-voltage grid, NES smart grid applications can process and analyze this information and provide timely actionable insight. This grid visibility and information can be used by DSOs to better prepare for the smart energy transition, as well as improve operational processes and have a positive impact on the quality of service for their consumers.
About the Author:
Larry Colton is Director of International Business Development and Government Affairs and has been working with utilities and smart grid vendors for more than 25 years. He is a licensed Professional Engineer and certified Project Manager, has received several patents, and participates in industry working groups, including IEC, ETSI, ANSI, IEEE, NEMA, EU Smart Metering and Smart Grid groups associated with the development of public and industry standards.