Automation is key to the optimal operation of decentralised energy systems with multiple data streams and near real-time response requirements. In turn, artificial intelligence (AI) will be essential in achieving such a level of automation, with its ability to predict and drive the demand-supply balance and other requirements to maintain system operation.
A specific use case where such automation is imperative is the microgrid. This is set to be put to the test in the Nanyang Technological University’s Renewable Energy Integration Demonstrator Singapore (REIDS) microgrid demonstration in Singapore.
The REIDS project – considered the largest of its type in the tropics – is undertaking the development of a fleet of eight microgrids on Semakau island, 8 km south of Singapore. The hybrid microgrids are designed to integrate selected combinations of technologies, including wind, solar PV, tidal, diesel, battery storage and power-to-gas. The aim is to develop and commercialise solutions that can be deployed for electrification, particularly on the hundreds of islands, for the estimated approximately 125m people with no or limited access in the southeast Asia region.
In addition, during the project a flexible desalination plant will be implemented to study the water-energy nexus in the context of remote locations.
AI for microgrids
The multi-million dollar initiative, which is strongly supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board and National Environment Agency, is being developed by an international consortium of energy companies including Accenture, Alstom, Engie and Schneider Electric.
Latest to join is the French-based energy intelligence developer Metron, which will implement its smart energy management platform to address the challenges of achieving interoperability between the microgrids.
Metron’s role includes monitoring and control of the flexible assets in the microgrids in order to achieve real-time optimisation based on energy market data such as spot price and demand response. The company will also simulate the operation of a virtual power plant (VPP).
Metron’s platform, named Energy Virtual Assistant, was developed to bring energy transparency to industrial facilities. It uses multiple data sources from industrial systems and others such as the weather, while interfaced to energy markets to deliver energy efficiency and savings in real-time.
According to Metron, the company views AI not as a buzzword, but at the service of energy efficiency, enabling the optimisation of energy consumption, production and storage.
Microgrids for electrification
With the majority of people without access to electricity living in rural areas, off-grid solutions such as mini-grids and microgrids are essential for electrification.
According to a progress report on electrification under the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, emerging evidence suggests that tens of millions of people now have access to electricity through solar home systems, reaching as much as 5% to 15% of the population in the pioneering countries.
Citing the International Energy Agency’s Energy for All case, the report states that an estimated 60% of the people becoming electrified between 2017 and 2030 will do so through decentralised systems, with about half of these through off-grid solutions based on solar PV but the other half with mini-grids.
Identifying the barriers to implementation of low-cost solutions is a crucial priority for policymakers, the report says.
Meanwhile, one option demonstrating its potential is blockchain with a growing number of startups funding and developing projects with the technology in developing countries such as South Africa and Moldova. The latter, supported by the United Nations Development Programme, is aimed to develop a replicable model for project financing.
Another option is peer-to-peer exchange being pioneered in India by Energy Bazaar.
With little more than a decade to go to achieve the SDG 7 goal of electrification for all, there are major opportunities both for microgrids but also other solutions that can support its achievement.