BKW Gets Smart About the Energy Transition

Swiss power utility BKW upgrades its grid to prepare for the future.
Published: Wed 27 Aug 2014

BKW, formerly known as Bernische Kraftwerke, is on track for the energy transition, says Dr Oliver Krone, Head of Smart Grid Engineering, BKW Energie, Switzerland, who will be attending the upcoming European Utility Week conference.

In an exclusive interview with Engerati, Dr Krone explains that in preparation for the changes ahead, the utility is showing its commitment to the development of renewable energy by creating a new business unit to develop the integration of renewable energy. It is also the first Swiss utility that aims to close its nuclear plant. The closure is expected to take place in 2019.

To support this, BKW is developing its grid to accommodate the connection of the increasing number of decentralized and mainly fluctuating generation units.

A smarter distribution network

BKW is piloting new tools and technologies to control and monitor its distribution network in the project “Power Network 2030 Stettlen (CH).” The utility will equip 20-25 LV network transformers with Smart Grid Terminals.

Through this project, the utility will test a new type of measurement equipment for transformer stations. To do this, newly developed energy meters have been installed in 23 distribution stations. The meters provide additional functionalities at the transformer stations.

On the one hand, the project is technology-driven to extend an established partnership with Landis+Gyr as a manufacturer of metering equipment, and on the other hand, BKW has a concrete need for time-series data with higher temporal resolution from distribution network operations.

The main goal is to evaluate the feasibility and the added value of this kind of measurement data. Based on this, a broad basis of operational data allows a more efficient network planning and operation. The network monitoring capability enables faster fault localisation, thereby increasing the continuity of supply. Of course this will also benefit the end customer, says Krone.

In the context of new equipment and concepts like the regulated distribution transformer or reactive power control, monitoring is essential to ensure a secure operation, explains Krone.

He adds, “In the long run, BKW aims to replace temporary event-triggered measurement campaigns and to complement existing data archives as this will enhance the efficiency of internal processes.”

LV network visibility

During the pilot, BKW has been gathering experiences on the capability of the technology to improve the visibility of the LV network status and the quality of energy delivery, as well as the usability of the information in network planning.

Online monitoring of the low voltage network is no less than a paradigm shift, explains Krone. He adds that it only became affordable thanks to the increasing computing capacities. He says, “There is also a definite technical need as the distribution networks have always been very heterogeneous and this tends to fortify when a variety of generators are added to existing loads.”

“Knowing more about a system helps to save investment and it increases the continuity of supply. Nothing is free but the more you know, the more deliberately you can make decisions. This becomes even more crucial when the regulator requests documentation,” explains Krone.

Interdepartmental Collaboration

This project brought various departments of the company together of which some have had very little contact in the past. Krone says that it has been both a challenge and an opportunity to gather experts from metering and remote data acquisition and network planning and engineering.

In response to this inter-exchange, BKW created a dedicated department for Smart Grid Engineering which helps to manage cross-sectional projects.

“It was important to involve the different departments from the beginning of the project in order to collect and consider various requirements and restrictions,” explains Krone.

Energy storage - A game changer for BKW?

The success of energy storage is dependent on the market model and on the legal framework, explains Krone. He says that since the storage of electrical energy remains costly, all storage installations must be designed to increase the benefits for the owner and the utility.

Storage tends to reduce the total energy flows over the network, thereby reducing the utility's revenues in the form of network fees within the given market model. It also does not guarantee to reduce a sudden surge in peak power.

“Because the network cannot be built smaller, the utility's costs will not be reduced. Therefore, we are of the opinion that utilities should be part of the game: develop incentives to stimulate grid-friendly storage usage,” explains Krone.

In conclusion

“The energy transition is neither stoppable nor reversible and it does not respect the classical borders of supply areas or company sectors. The smaller network operators, which normally do not have the capacity or manpower to invest largely in new technologies, will have to source them from others. This of course is beneficial for both parties.”