How utilities can use IoT technology to save energy in the smart grid era

Three ways to slash energy losses by up to 30% using internet of things technologies.
Published: Tue 08 Dec 2015

Government mandates, especially those in Europe, have triggered some aggressive deadlines that are forcing distribution system operators (DSOs) to improve energy efficiency by cutting their energy losses.

Utilities are also feeling strong pressure to integrate and accommodate the boom of not only alternative sources of energy generation, but also electric vehicles into their grids.

To meet these considerable challenges, utilities are now adopting strategies that leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) — and the smart tools and connected technologies of which it’s composed.  

Take active strategies for loss control, for example. Active energy efficiency means reducing energy consumption through measurement, monitoring and control of its use. Some examples here are dynamic network reconfiguration and voltage optimisation.

The good news is that DSOs can solve some of their problems with internet of things technologies. Let’s look at three example issues:

Loss reduction strategies for DSOs

Issue 1: Technical losses in MV networks

Technical losses in medium voltage (MV) networks represent about 3% of the distributed energy. That obviously represents a substantial loss.

Strategy 1: Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS). Using algorithms, an ADMS can not only optimise network configuration and relieve overloaded network segments, but also help minimise losses (up to 4% for yearly reconfiguration) and load unbalance in high and medium voltage substation transformers and feeders. Further, it helps DSOs achieve an optimal voltage profile and improve voltage quality.

Issue 2: Integrating distributed energy resources (DERs)

Distributed generators (renewable or backup), controllable loads used for demand response, and energy storage (electrical or thermal), can cause rising and falling voltage at the same time in different parts of the grid. Not to mention that the necessary monitoring of this voltage in older substations is costly and complex.

Strategy 2: Fine-tuning voltage control infrastructure. To acquire accurate, real-time voltage data, utilities can install cost effective, self-powered, communicating IoT voltage sensors at the MV/LV substation level or along lines. They can also use “virtual” sensors to estimate the MV voltage based on more easily accessible data. Further, DSOs can install actuators with smart transformers along MV lines to increase or decrease the voltage.

Issue 3: Non-technical losses in LV networks

Estimates indicate that 90% of non-technical losses occur in LV networks. Assessing for improvement means identifying and monitoring these losses, but due to the high number of points, it’s expensive.

Strategy 3: Deploying smart meters. Smart energy meters can act as additional sensors to track network energy performance data. Comparing the pattern of the energy measured on an LV feeder to the patterns of energies delivered by the smart meters delivers a precise location of losses and, additionally, faster detection and location of LV network outages for improved reliability.

Of course, launching IoT and connected technology strategies is easier said than done. How to get there? Step by step.

Four steps to distribution network efficiency

In the smart grid era, utility electrical distributors cannot afford to rely on old technology. IoT technologies are here, and its connected technologies can upgrade DSOs’ existing infrastructure to prevail over a variety of modern distribution network challenges. By following these best practices in creating a migration plan, you can help your DSO develop a more efficient network:

  • Within the next three months, identify areas where waste can occur.

  • Within the next year, install sensors and applications that can accurately assess efficiency losses.

  • Within the next two years, implement a pilot project to demonstrate feasibility, quantify gains and estimate deployment costs.

  • Within the next 10 years, plan and implement a staged rollout of the full range of smart grid technologies.

Although energy efficiency improvements may increase short-term capital costs, long-term advantages include lower operating costs, reduced energy waste, and a more integrated and flexible network.

Call to action

Guidance on leveraging smart grid technologies is available in the Schneider Electric white paper How Utility Electrical Distribution Networks can Save Energy in the Smart Grid Era.

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