Integrating distributed renewable generation sources into the grid is a challenge for system operators, as the network was designed for large, centralised power plants with electrons flowing only in one direction and they do not always have good visibility of how it is working at the grid edge.
Swiss start-up Adaptricity has developed a fully cloud-based grid analytics platform that will help DSOs to better understand grid behaviour as they connect renewables, and identify where the grid may be stressed and require upgrading. It is already moving from pilot phase to full commercial rollout. Besides numerous smaller DSO customers in German-speaking Europe, China Light and Power in Hong Kong has signed up as a customer after a successful PV integration pilot last year, and further pilots are starting with Eon in Central-Eastern Europe and with Enel.
The Adaptricity platform simulates the grid using smart meter and substation measurements which can then be used for investment planning and asset management. What sets it apart from similar offerings is the frequency with which it collects data from sensors to give a near continuous view of the grid so that problems can be identified quickly and efficiently, says COO Andreas Ulbig.
Machine learning software fills in data holes coming from the physical sensors and neural networks train the algorithms to identify outlying events and show problem areas.
The technology is scooping up awards, having won the CIRED start-up award in June and shortlisted for the World Energy Congress awards to be announced next month. The European smart meter rollout has boosted Adaptricity’s fortunes not only because having more data helps monitoring, but also because after utilities had spent so much effort they wanted to achieve a greater benefit beyond just finding an easier way to bill their customers.
The platform is designed for DSOs but will strengthen TSO/DSO cooperation by providing a simple way for DSOs to communicate with the TSO. “These things have for a long time only been done on PowerPoint and in theory, now they are in the process of actually being implemented,” Ulbig says. “The energy transition is really happening on the distribution grid. If the bottleneck is in the distribution grid then you can’t solve it on the transmission level.”
Ongoing projects with European DSOs have demonstrated cost saving opportunities both in grid operation (OPEX) and grid planning/investment (CAPEX). CAPEX savings are typically about 10-20%, mostly by avoiding grid investments that would have otherwise been seen as unavoidable. OPEX savings can be 30-99% depending on the specific operation task that is being automated by the Adaptricity platform.
But progress has not been without challenge. Stricter data privacy rules not just in Europe but also in jurisdictions like Hong Kong and Australia, where Adaptricity is also active, mean that servers have to be physically located in the country. Further, cyber security rules in Europe mean it can be difficult to stay in compliance simply due to growing regulatory complexity, and some projects have been delayed while the participants ensured that data access was tightly controlled. But these are transitory delays as the industry builds up required competencies and adapts their data-related processes, Ulbig says.