2018 — The Year of the Digital Grid
Nothing will stand out in 2018 as more important for the long-term success of renewables than the advancement of a digital grid architecture.
Visibility at the grid edge; integration of sensors and data analytics for distributed generation; smart contracts for energy management; flexible demand; intelligent control systems — these are the buzzy technologies of today that will become standard operations for utilities, system operators, and power producers to maximize the global renewable energy fleet.
It has been clear for a long time that the way the grid worked — one-way network management — is changing to two-way system operation, but we got a good look in 2017 at exactly how that change is taking shape.
For example, we saw smart inverters made requisite in certain regions in 2017, with the expectation that more regions will follow. Unlike their predecessors, smart inverters for solar or storage can ride out frequency or voltage events on the grid, giving utilities a hand in keeping the grid stable. Next year, watch for more policy makers to pave the way for utilities to use smart inverters for grid stability, and regulators to work with entities that can create communications standards for this next-gen technology to talk to the grid.
Better communication between utilities and their customers’ systems will remain a theme in digital energy system advancements. Studies and demonstrations being conducted now will help inform the structure of those communications. At the U.S. federal level, for example, the SunShot initiative is working on its Enabling Extreme Real-Time Grid Integration of Solar Energy program to help fund new projects that will allow utilities to understand the amount of solar power that is being generated, in real time, by solar power systems, including rooftop solar at customer locations. At the core of these programs, are the sensors and data analytics that will drive the future digital grid.
A study in the U.S. Southwest by the largest utility in Arizona aims to understand the limits of a new platform to coordinate between storage and smart home devices. The test will build out the ability of utilities to optimize networked distributed energy resources.
And in Scotland, a recent trial showed the success of what’s called “active network management” — an integrated system of demand-side management, large-scale energy storage and monitoring and control through software. Watch for the results of that demonstration project to be extrapolated for use on the greater U.K. grid.
Smart inverters, smart controls, smart networks — it’s all about digital smarts, and expect more to come next year. There will be more partnerships between energy industry players and big data analytics providers; more data will be moving from generator assets to utility assets; more smart contracts will be trusted for buying and selling renewables; more cities will enable their buildings with intelligent energy controls; and all in all, the renewable energy industry will use digital technologies to edge that much closer to overcoming the perception that the variability of renewable resources remains a threat to power grids everywhere.