6 new signs the world is getting smarter about energy

Wed, 2015-05-13 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

There’s no doubt that the energy world is changing fast. It wasn’t long ago that the electrical grid was one-way — delivering power to homes and businesses, not receiving power from them. 

Today, the electrical grid is two-way. And renewable energy, which is subject to more fluctuations than more traditional sources, is not only here, it’s becoming an increasingly large source of power for many communities.

These trends are forcing cities and utilities to look at energy in new ways. Here are six new projects in communities that are getting smarter about energy.

Managing unprecedented network load
Within the next decade, the United Kingdom is forecast to have more than 10 million homes with solar panels and more than 6 million with electric vehicles, making the country’s energy network increasingly difficult to manage. Council Lead Partner Schneider Electric is participating in a trial project that will help with changing energy network patterns while boosting local capacity.

The project involves installing high-performance power electronic converters at individual homes and offices. By doing this, utilities can increase the voltage sent over local networks to give customers more flexibility. For instance, the system can deliver consistent power for household needs while delivering stronger voltage to recharge an electric car.

All the data in one place
Smart meters and growing grids create a lot of data. Schneider Electric is also helping Spain’s Iberdrola keep better track of 11 million smart meters and advanced monitoring devices.

Through the project, the utility gains a single platform to remotely manage and analyze data from the meters. This gives the utility better data faster. Customers also get more timely information about their energy usage, which helps them conserve and better manage their utility bills.

System-wide management and consistency
Snohomish County PUD, a utility north of Seattle that ranks as one of the largest in the U.S., is upgrading and streamlining its management systems in a project with Council Lead Partner Alstom Grid. The project aims to improve reliability while making the grid easier to manage. Once the upgrade is complete, management staff will have only one main system to learn.

The project will integrate a new outage management system with a distribution management system and an updated energy management system. All three are made by Alstom and will give the utility a single, integrated platform to monitor and operate its electric grid. By having a single interface that’s consistent across transmission and distribution control rooms, the utility expects to reduce operational costs by simplifying controls and enhancing situational awareness.

Modernizing Latin America’s largest grid
The Brazilian utility Eletrobras -- the largest power utility in Latin America -- is working with Council Lead Partner Itron to modernize its grid. It’s using Itron’s OpenWay Riva to combine two different communications technologies on the same network.

Itron’s adaptive technology automatically routes data over the best communications system -- radio frequency or power line carrier -- at the time for the data and the requirements of the application. This effort will improve outage detection, transformer load management, and allow for smart and remote metering, remote disconnect and provide other efficiencies.

Giving renewable energy generation a boost
Enel, a Council Lead Partner, is making a big investment to boost the amount of energy generated from renewable sources in emerging markets, including Chile, Mexico and Brazil. It’s investing $9.9 billion to add 7.1 GW of new capacity, coming close to doubling the amount of energy it’s currently generating.

Enel says those three countries are set to be renewable energy hotspots and its efforts not only provide more power, but also help them achieve their renewable energy goals. The new capacity will go online this decade. Enel also has its sights set on South Africa where more than 6 GW of renewable energy capacity will eventually be auctioned.

Integrating renewable energy sources
The need for more timely information is driving a transmission project in Italy that does more to incorporate renewable energy while improving reliability. Council Lead Partner GE is helping Terna Rete Italia, Italy’s transmission system operator, gather real-time data in an effort to prevent outages.

By being able to view and analyze data in real-time, the project will effectively give the company an early-warning system. When potential faults, oscillations or other disturbances are detected, the transmission operator can balance different energy sources to maintain consistent power.


Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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