Yves Meyer, Vice President of Asia-Pacific Sales, Smart Wires discussed the state of power flow control technology and its potential to smarten the grid. Below are remarks from his interview:
What are the incumbent technologies for power flow control for T&D?
Incumbent power flow control technologies for the T&D industry are typically classified as Flexible Alternating Current Transmission System (FACTS) devices. These technologies use sophisticated power electronics to compensate transmission lines and thereby control and improve network power throughput. The reliability of these technologies continues to improve, but their general form factor has not changed in recent decades.
In contrast to FACTS, which tend to be centralized and highly custom, Smart Wires leverages modular building blocks that can be easily integrated into existing transmission networks to improve utilization and alleviate congestion
What are the drivers of power flow technology development?
The key driver for power flow control technology development is unprecedented rapid change of the power system. Generation sources and their locations are changing and there is ever increasing uncertainty around the future of coal and nuclear resources. Utilities will also need to respond to the challenges ahead in meeting the world’s carbon targets. Furthermore, the ways that consumers are interfacing with their distribution networks are evolving with the advent of distributed energy resources. The transmission system was not conceived to accommodate the pace of these changes. Introducing power flow control elements allows this grid to be rapidly repurposed for today’s and future realities.
What are the some of the technical challenges to deploying effective power flow solutions?
Reliable performance is critical for electric utilities. The notion of “keeping lights on” is by far the most important core mission for these service providers. Technologies deployed by electric utilities must be able to withstand harsh environmental conditions for decades with as little maintenance as possible. Designing and building technology to meet those needs, and that operates reliability and safely, both physically and from a cybersecurity perspective, is the critical challenge for solution providers.
What kinds of business innovations are needed to make power flow control affordable?
Affordability is not a barrier facing power flow control solutions. Building a new transmission line is incredibly expensive but is often the preferred and known approach. And although public acceptance can be a challenge, utilities can typically justify that expense for reliability reasons. Simply put, utilities have not been incented to be innovative or to embrace change. Change can be incredibly unsettling, especially when the consequences of failure are as dramatic as they are for electric utilities.
What kinds of regulations or policies do you see as needed in this space?
By definition, rate of return regulation incentivizes utilities to invest vast amounts of capital in infrastructure projects. These schemes were put in place to ensure that monopoly entities made sufficient and regular system improvements and expansions. While more and more states and countries are considering modifications to regulations that affect utility earnings, such as performance metrics, additional work is needed to align utility and consumer incentives.
Specifically pertaining to Smart Wires, how does its technologies coordinate with utilities?
Smart Wires technology is deployed similarly to other devices that utilities operate in the field. Using utility-preferred and cyber secure communications protocols, operators in the utility control room can monitor and control Smart Wires systems, which leverages existing communication technologies (e.g. cellular, radio, etc.) as well as third-party tested encryptions. Tools like Smart Wires, which represent modular, scalable, and rapidly deployable (and redeployable) solutions, will play a key role in this power system transformation and as utilities seek to optimize their grid investments moving forward.
What are the opportunities for power flow solutions like Smart Wires’ in Japan and around the world?
In Japan’s case, Smart Wires solutions can support the integration of utility-scale solar PV and wind farms by reducing the costs and time associated with the interconnection of these new and variable generation sources.
Smart Wires solutions are most effective in states or countries with existing, fairly-meshed transmission and distribution networks. Most developed countries with robust networks are experiencing tremendous changes in generation and load, and see compelling value in these offerings.
Interview with Ryan Wartena, Co-founder and CEO of Geli:
What does the future of the electricity grid look like?
One can look to the development of the Internet infrastructure as an example of how the electrical infrastructure will evolve. So, when the personal computer (PC) was introduced, it launched the Internet of communication. Imagine if we could do that for the power grid.
Grids are centralized now and that means it is susceptible to black-outs and vulnerabilities. Now imagine if everyone had a little bit of energy storage. That would allow them to be autonomous and interconnected at the same time. Ultimately the Internet and the power grid will converge into a single energy network. This will enable precise delivery of the lowest-cost energy, which will inevitably come from renewable resources.
How does energy storage enable the integration of renewables?
The lack of energy storage is a barrier when it comes to adding intermittent and variable sources of clean power such as wind and. How do we generate power when they are not available? Turning on thermal generation, as it is typically done, is inefficient and costly. We need batteries to store solar and wind energy and release it when there is demand.
For a battery system to be effective, it needs an intelligent software operating system to manage the communications between it and the other components that comprise an energy system. The software also needs to coordinate with utilities to deliver highly-specific amounts of energy to alleviate stress on the wider energy grid. The proliferation of ESS connected to the grid will substantially help to integrate solar PV energy and also EVs, but for these systems to realize their full potential, their usage should take into account load and pricing conditions.
In order to be cost effective and to maximize the effective life span of these storage devices, the software should take into account how deeply the batteries are discharged and recharged, how quickly, and how often they undergo these cycles. All of these factors determine the lifespan of a battery and the financial viability of a system. By performing this kind of lifecycle analysis, battery life can be prolonged and financial performance enhanced.
What are the opportunities for ESS innovation in Japan?
Utilities are not the only ones installing batteries for battery storage. Geli has recently partnered with domestic solar inverter-energy storage system manufacturer Tabuchi to provide an integrated hardware-software solution for the residential market that can help Japan meet its ambitious renewable energy targets. We see Japan as being very progressive and it has the potential to be the first country running fully on renewables.
Our combined solution optimizes grid performance by enabling utilities to help manage distributed solar, as well as additional home energy devices. This removes a critical bottleneck that Japan is facing as it limits the number of interconnections to new solar installations and will accelerate residential solar growth.
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