The rise of the KEPCO ‘supergrid’

KEPCO has made major strides toward its vision of becoming the “global top green and smart energy pioneer.”
Published: Thu 21 Jul 2016

KEPCO's smart grid demonstration project on Jeju Island, located off the southern coast of South Korea, was envisioned to be the world’s largest smart grid test bed. The demonstration project was created to verify existing IT technologies on a real distribution network that would help to reduce CO2 emissions and form the basis of a longterm domestic and overseas smart grid market.

The project is set to transform the transmission systems and distribution network, making them sufficiently intelligent to maximise the utilisation rate of existing facilities as well as improving energy efficiency and upgrading power quality.

The Jeju test pilot broke ground in 2009 and aimed to develop several technologies that would contribute toward Korea’s goal of a completely integrated smart grid by 2030.

According to the Korea Smart Grid Institute, the pilot was envisioned to “increase the practicality of new power services based on an integrated operation and demonstration of five key areas.” These included:

Smart consumer – The utilisation of advanced meter infrastructure and smart home appliances to link consumers and suppliers interactively

Smart transportation – The development of EV infrastructure and creating nextgeneration technology for connecting the power grid with electric vehicle batteries (Vehicle-to-Grid)

Smart renewables – The integration of energy storage and microgrid technology

Smart power grid – The demonstration of power grid advancements such as smart transmission, digital transformation and power distribution automation

Smart electricity services – The establishment of a total operation centre (TOC) for Jeju test-bed monitoring, realtime (smart) billing system, real-time virtual power trade market, and the Demand Response market.

The test bed was composed of five main showrooms which were owned and run by consumer electronics giant LG (providing two way communication system between the utility and customers), South Korean oil refiner GS Caltex (smart transportation project), telecommunications operator SK Telecom (development of energy saving management systems), steel making company POSCO and state utility KEPCO. The showrooms and test facilities were scattered along the Northeastern corridor of Jeju Island. The demonstration was financed by both national government and private companies. A total investment of 240 billion won (US$208 million) was committed to the construction of test-bed facilities, projects and services.

The first phase of the project, which was completed in May 2011, involved the construction of smart grid facilities and infrastructure. The second phase, running over the following two years (2011-2013), saw the testing and demonstration of the infrastructure and services, and preparing the technology for expansion and export to mainland Korea and overseas.

Smart grid expansion

Part of KEPCO’s larger vision is the commercialisation and expansion of the pilot’s best outcomes, extending the smart grid into selected urban areas (Seoul, Inchun, ChungNam, JeonBuk, KyungBuk, Gangreung and Namyangju), expected to run through to 2020.

Over and above Jeju, South Korea’s smart grid vision extends way beyond its borders. In 2014, KEPCO unveiled a three-stage plan to “develop smart grids into a business model and an export item.”

To that end, the company plans to spend US$155 million between 2015 and 2017 on comprehensive tests of related technologies believed to be helpful in reducing spending on power, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while boosting energy saving and efficiency.

In December 2014, KEPCO partnered with telecoms provider SK to develop smart energy solutions for domestic and export use.

Both companies will work together to commercialise automatic metering systems using LTE technology, installing charging stations for electric vehicles, conducting joint research and development for utilizing big data for energy efficiency, and exporting micro grids.

Back In 2009, Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy signed a Statement of Intent with the US Department of Energy to collaborate on smart grid technology and several other segments of the green-economy. In another deal, KEPCO signed an agreement to sell its smart grid technologies to the Canadian power company PowerStream in its first export of this kind.

Under the deal, the two companies will cooperate to develop a large-scale application of the technology for North America.

In addition, KEPCO completed power grid projects in Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia, Libya, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Paraguay. The utility is also currently undertaking 19 projects in West Africa, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. As a result of its market diversification efforts, KEPCO won another six EPC contracts with Kazakhstan and the Dominican Republic in 2011.

In 2011 alone, KEPCO generated 2.4 trillion won (approximately $2 billion) from its overseas business.

Korea has also joined with Italy in taking the lead in developing a Technology Action Plan for Smart Grids for the Major Economic Forum on Energy and Climate.

Long-term vision

Under the existing smart grid roadmap, Korea will be able to increase its energy efficiency by 46.7% by 2030. In addition, the country might reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020.

Commitment to this vision is evident in every aspect of KEPCO’s operations, from its human resources plan to its research and development technology strategy. This strategy includes plans for a digitalbased operation to improve system stability, while increasing transmission capacity and implementing automated maintenance and troubleshooting features.

The Jeju test bed had formed the basis for the creation of a nationwide smart grid, as well as the construction a nextgeneration communications network and development of intelligent network technologies in preparation for the future smart grid environment.

According to an annual report, KEPCO will expand its smart grid to incorporate a 2.5GW offshore wind power plant with large-capacity power storage systems and integrated smart grid operation systems.

At the 22nd World Energy Congress held in Daegu in 2013, Chief Executive Officer of the Korea Electricity Power Corporation, Hwan-eik Cho, said in his address: “… we will lead the global market as we equip ourselves with technical competitiveness that is highly adaptive to the environmental changes by constantly researching and developing green and smart technology such as smart grids and offshore wind energy.

“… we will not remain complacent in the domestic market, but decisively tackle overseas projects. We will increase profit by pursuing overseas projects in various sectors, including nuclear power, hydro and thermal energy, renewable energy, transmission and distribution, and resource development.”

The KEPCO CEO also provided feedback on results following a strict power-outage prevention programme.

Cho said: “KEPCO provides high-quality power with a per-household power outage rate of only 12.07 minutes. The company has achieved a world-class transmission loss rate of 3.57 percent, using highefficiency equipment and an intelligent power grid. KEPCO’s power quality is world-class, with a voltage maintenance ratio of 99.93 percent."

"With excellence in customer service, KEPCO has achieved top-class ratings in the Public Institution Customer Satisfaction Survey for 14 consecutive years.”

Adding to its success is KEPCO’s local and international partnerships. Just recently KEPCO penned a deal with LG to jointly promote transforming Jeju Island into a clean district with renewable energy technology.

The Korea Times reported that KEPCO has been pushing to install technology that helps boost energy efficiency, while mitigating carbon emissions on Jeju.

The MOU signed between LG, KEPCO and the Jeju special self-governing province is intended to construct an eco-town on the island, and will be launched next year.

KEPCO’s ceaseless vigour and determination toward ultimate grid reinforcement and resiliency has been proven in its experimentation of innovative technologies. KEPCO will additionally embark on a 24 MW energy storage project, projected to be the ‘largest of its kind’ when complete.

This article first appeared in Metering & Smart Energy International, Issue 5, 2015.

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