Satellite support for power grid

Can satellite technology support the power grid?

Europe’s transmission and distribution system operators are collaborating to investigate the feasibility of space-based services in supporting their operations.
Published: Mon 17 Dec 2018

As utilities increasingly look to deploy advanced technologies to support the power grid, one that so far has been little utilised is space technology.

The India Energy Storage Alliance currently has a project under way with the European Space Agency (ESA) to investigate the use of satellite communications, earth observation data and other space assets to support the development and management of microgrids in developing countries. The first mock ups are due to be shared by two consortia at the Alliance’s annual conference in January 2019.

Meanwhile, the European transmission and distribution system operators (TSOs, DSOs) also are starting to look towards satellite technology. In a cooperation agreement with the ESA, the TSO and DSO associations ENTSO-E and E.DSO will investigate the feasibility and commercial viability of the use of data from space assets in supporting utility operations.

Other organisations that are contributing to the initiative and will provide input and feedback are Enel Group’s Global Infrastructure and Networks business, the Global Smart Grid Federation, a stakeholder organisation comprised of national smart grid associations globally, and Europe’s Friends of the Supergrid, which promotes large-scale interconnections of power grids.

Power sector operations

Potential areas of opportunity envisaged include asset management, two‐way communication between smart meters and grid operators, prediction of consumption or generation peaks, development of Internet of Things (IoT) services for smart homes and the use of virtual power plants.

“This cooperation will identify business cases where both sectors can support each other and deliver benefits for the European consumer,” comments ENTSO-E Secretary General Laurent Schmitt. “A key example is to ensure secure and reliable data exchange between European TSOs in case of failure of other communication channels, like in the event of cybersecurity incidents.”

Roberto Zangrandi, Secretary General of E.DSO, adds: “The future of grids is based on the development of technology and applications that allow integration of renewable generation into distribution grids and for active consumers to manage energy responsibly. Collaboration with ESA for innovation within a series of DSO defined topics will enable electric industry development of new models and tools that improve the design, operation and maintenance of grids in a safer and reliable way for both operators and customers.”

Space services

ESA’s Business Applications department, which supports the development of new space-based services, has launched an invitation to tender for the project. Sought are teams from the states that are subscribed to ESA's ARTES IAP programme that have identified “commercially viable, technically feasible business ideas that involve either space technology or space data” and that offer “an attractive market opportunity with real potential for engaging customers”.

The three key areas of interest are:

Smart grid, including demand and response management, grid integration of electric vehicles, smart meter enabled services, home automation, virtual power plants and industrial microgrids management

● Electricity grid maintenance, including conductivity and hot spot measurement, vegetation and infrastructure monitoring, weather event impacts on energy infrastructure and supply, assessment of building electric consumption and satellite communication as back-up

● Technology enablers including big data and data analytics, artificial intelligence, IoT, cyber security and satellite for 5G.

“Observations from satellites allow us to predict weather patterns and renewable energy production and communication by satellite also allows operators to keep the grid network balanced as supply and demand fluctuate,” states Nick Appleyard, Head of ESA’s Business Applications department. “ESA wants to support the industry to refine these methods and broaden out from individual trials, making the resulting knowledge available to the entire European network of system operators.”

ESA will provide up to €250,000 per activity along with technical and commercial guidance and access to its partner network. The resulting studies are also intended to establish a roadmap for service implementation through one or more potential follow-on demonstration projects.