Renewable energy is highly intermittent — solar power is only generated during sunlight hours and wind power is only generated on windy days. This variability means a complex, intelligent system will be required to ensure that total power generation sufficiently meets demand. For example, when wind levels drop, an alternative energy source must increase power production to make up for the reduction in wind power. Better integration of sensor technology, PLCs and actuators will also help to translate power needs at a regional level, into control actions at a local level that can be used to respond more quickly to power demand during the day.
Another trend that is becoming popular in the renewable sector is to go off-grid entirely, using localised microgeneration rather than centralised power stations. Here, smaller renewable sites can be used to generate enough power to supply local areas rather than centralised power stations that generate electricity for an entire region. In smart microgrids, centralised power plants may be repurposed to provide back-up supply, instead of becoming obsolete.
As well as integrating new physical assets into the existing infrastructure, a smart grid will require software that can monitor and control the entire grid.
Smart grids rely on vast amounts of real-time data to control power generation and distribution in accordance with demand. Software such as COPA-DATA’s zenon offers a way of gathering and analysing this data automatically. zenon is an industrial automation application that incorporates a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system and a human-machine interface (HMI). Such a system could automatically collect data from an entire smart grid, control grid operations and provide an interface for workers to interact with.
National Grid previously used two SCADA systems. However, by 2003, they were incapable of handling the increased demand for real-time data and control capacity. The company implemented a new energy management system (EMS) provided by GE Energy Management, to manage the entire grid. This system consists of hardware and software that can be upgraded as required, demonstrating that thought is already being given to obsolescence.
The demand for electricity and the way it is consumed is expected to continue changing. National Grid’s new EMS is well equipped for the increasing electricity demand because it can support over 150 dedicated user consoles and a database of 1.2 million points. Advancements in technology will give rise to decreased latency and increased bandwidth of communication. Therefore, the smart grid must be built to cope with lower latencies and higher bandwidths than are currently possible, to ensure that it does not become obsolete.
The electricity grid infrastructure that Britain built in the mid to late 1900s does not need to become obsolete. By keeping obsolescence in mind, we can make our energy grids smart without completely overhauling them.
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