“It is safe to say that there is no sector or industry that has not been impacted by the ongoing digital transformation and the innovative technologies” said Ali Al Jassim, CEO, Etihad ESCO in an article of TECHNICAL REVIEW MIDDLE EAST on Monday, 24 September 2018.

Ali Al Jassim is the CEO of Etihad ESCO. (Image source: Etihad)

The future of current electric power systems

The advent of smartphones, social media, intelligent manufacturing and automation are set to transform the future of industries, including electric power systems. The electricity sector is poised to take advantage of the rapid digital transformation, with US$1.3 trillion of value estimated to be captured globally between the year 2016 and 2025.

Be it renewable energy, non-renewable energy or any other source of energy at generation – it doesn’t matter – power system is still going to play a pivotal role in future. Being an integral part in transmission and distribution (T&D) and with continuous growth in energy demand, power system has to be smart and robust to support sustainability.

With the introduction of smart automation, artificial intelligence and continuous monitoring a lot can be achieved. These can help in estimation of future loads, seasonal requirements on grid accordingly generation can be planned using sum of renewables and non-renewables source. Smart power systems can help in minimising T&D losses, also it can help in better maintenance, power quality, sustainability.

The disruptive convergence of digital technology advancements is marked by its customer-centric nature; on-demand, tailored consumption; and a decentralised infrastructure. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution, according to the World Economic Forum, ‘builds on the digital revolution and combines multiple technologies that are leading to unprecedented paradigm shifts in the economy, business, society, and individually,’ we need to ensure that the growth of electric power systems is in the right direction.

As energy efficiency and sustainability continue to be the biggest challenges we face today, the electric power industry is witnessing a period of sustained growth to cater to the rising energy needs. Modernisation initiatives such as the deployment of smart grid solutions will support the continuing growth of the sector’s infrastructure, as new facilities get added to the existing network and incorporated with the installed base. Grid intelligence will aid planners and operators in successfully navigating the increasing complexity of safe and reliable power supply and delivery.

Even as renewable power generation technologies expand to contribute to reducing the total amount of energy consumed, yet they cannot completely displace the necessity for new baseload generation. Fossil generation sources that provide cleaner and lower emissions will continue to be the mainstay of power generation additions. As the industry envisions its future, nuclear power is expected to grow in significance, but this will also give rise to challenges for industrialised countries.

Demand reduction and the need for new generation additions can be attained through conservation and efficiency improvements to an extent. For the installation of new substations in thickly populated urban areas with intense load densities, compact designs with reduced footprints will be imperative.

An ideal mix of power generation resources will encompass central station power, supported by renewable energy sources including wind and solar technologies, and eco-friendly distributed generation complemented by consumer demand side response programs. The right mix of these resources will lead to the creation of an efficient and feasible energy market with balance. A central and distributed generation capability will also reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, since renewable energy can be effectively used to serve load based on resource availability, in response to consumer demand.

The problems plaguing the current electric power system include aging infrastructure, unreliability, weather-related outages and security concerns. Energy loss during transmission, another major drawback of the existing power system, happens during the transmission of energy from large power plants to the consumers through extensive networks over long distances. Electricity transmission and distribution losses average about five per cent of the electricity being transmitted and distributed annually in the United States, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Despite the current challenges faced by the electric power industry, the opportunities for improvement are numerous. If integrated under appropriate interconnection standards, in microgrids, or in automated distribution systems, distributed resources can help improve grid reliability and resilience for customers who seek uninterrupted service.

There is no doubt that the need of the hour is a modern power system that is capable of supporting the development and deployment of increasingly clean energy and energy-efficiency technologies. Such systems will have certain essential features as identified now and may need more of them that will become apparent over time. Further development and implementation of a regulatory framework and business models that provide incentives for power generators, system operators and utilities that focus on reducing or eliminating pollution and other environmental damages, is the most essential feature. System reliability, protection of physical and virtual assets from malicious or accidental damages, enhancement of grid infrastructure, and safeguarding consumers from unfair pricing and other pitfalls must also be focus areas. An ideal electric power system will be the one that creates sustainable business models for firms in the power sector, while also achieving these goals.

The automation of distribution has immense potential in optimising the reliability and performance of distribution systems. As the industry aims to capitalize on the deployment of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems, major investments in new distribution automation and distribution management systems can be expected in the near future. The potential of digital technologies in accelerating the sector’s modernisation and growth is immense and can add exceptional shareholder, customer and environmental value. This is exactly what makes these times both exciting and challenging for our industry.

As we turn to leveraging the fundamentals of digitisation to increase the life cycle of energy infrastructure and to optimize electricity network flows, Energy Service companies are set to play an increasingly important role in regulating the electric power system to ensure the efficient use of energy by providing valuable data on energy losses in the system to customers and helping them resolve these issues.