Four technologies for the intelligent grid

Intelligence at the grid edge is key to driving the move towards a decentralised energy system.
Published: Mon 16 Jul 2018

With the transition to a decentralised energy system prosumers are emerging as active market participants with distributed energy resources and there are new disruptive loads such as electric vehicles. This is shifting the axis of development to the grid edge as the system becomes more dynamic and unpredictable and greater visibility is required by utilities.

Driven by digitalisation and the widespread deployment of smart metering and other sensing, those data streams also are opening the way for intelligence and control at the grid edge, as pioneered by Itron with its app-based OpenWay Riva platform. Not only does edge intelligence reduce the data management and analytics requirements of the utility central data centre, but also enables more rapid response, with near real-time increasingly necessary, at the point of need.

According to Navigant Research in a new study, to date, utilities’ efforts at the grid edge have been largely reactive, focused on issues caused by distribution grid asset failures, renewables intermittency, shifting loads, capacity constraints and bidirectional power flows. However, in the longer term the approach must become more proactive, as edge intelligence and automation enable the development of markets for aggregated clean resources and services, self-healing power delivery networks and end-to-end integrated grid management strategies.

These, in short, are all the requirements for the utility to stay ahead of the competition and to flourish in the new energy world, both meeting its network commitments for stability and reliability while strengthening its relationship with customers.

Edge technologies

The Navigant study identifies four applications as key for grid edge computing and distributed intelligence. For the study the grid edge is defined as the segment of the grid between (and including) the distribution substation and a distributed energy resource network and includes assets on both the utility and customer sides of the meter.

Distribution automation

Near instantaneous fault detection, location, isolation, and service restoration (FLISR) will utilise the split-second action of distribution automation assets around the grid for enhanced grid reliability and resiliency.

Volt/var optimisation

Utilities can control voltage and volt-ampere reactive (VAR) levels in real time to optimise power flows, reduce energy consumption, and manage challenges that arise with the high penetration of distributed energy resources.

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI)

Advanced meters can continuously calculate and analyse loads on individual distribution transformers, locate outages at the meter level, and integrate with volt/var optimisation, FLISR and active demand response programmes.

Smart inverters

Advanced smart inverters can integrate load flow data with volt/var optimisation and conservation voltage reduction to provide reactive power compensation to the grid to offset fluctuations caused by distributed resources and demand response programmes.

Underlying all of these is the requisite IT and analytics capabilities. In addition to Itron, other major market vendors such as Siemens and GE have and are introducing edge intelligence solutions and technologies, while numerous initiatives are underway within Europe and across the world to advance aggregation, demand response, trading and other consumer and grid related requirements.

Grid edge market

In addition to the grid edge technologies themselves, Navigant reviews the market for these technologies, projecting growth of almost 17% annually over the next decade.

While the greatest growth is anticipated in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America,the level of deployment in these regions is the lowest to date – the largest region for deployment is expected to be Europe, accounting for approximately 40% of the market by 2027. The driver is stated to be strong growth in grid distribution networks due to significant economic and regulatory development.

Certainly in Europe, once the Clean Energy Package emerges from negotiation and moves towards implementation, it should lead to significant regulatory activity that will advance technologies and markets and accelerate the energy transition.