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The Eaton Smart Grid network

The Eaton Smart Grid network



An intelligent path to vexing issues

Philip Dingle (pictured) of Eaton, a global player and leader in power management, examines the issues utilities face and offers solutions

June 2014

Against an ever-changing background of legislation, increasing demand and technological developments today’s utilities are under pressure to improve reliability, drive operational efficiencies and reduce costs.

There are several factors at play currently which influence the thinking of utility companies. In keeping with the global effort to use more renewable energy sources for primary power generation there is a considerable focus on harnessing large-scale photovoltaic (PV) energy or in everyday language ‘solar power’. However, as the bringing on and reliance on renewable energy increases the grid management of the utilities needs to become smarter. The condition of the grid, in general terms, in the Gulf is pretty good as much of it is relatively new but with much of this solar power generation being done in desert areas, well away from the urban populations, there are some technical challenges presented. Because of the physical distance from where the electrical power is generated to where it is consumed there is a threat to reliability due to the power generated being medium voltage (MV) power as opposed to high voltage (HV) and therefore susceptible to voltage drop. Therefore, we are seeing a trend towards the use of voltage regulators and capacitors to help negate these problems.

Moving away from the technical challenges of large-scale solar power generation, the growth of residential PV also brings with it a demand on the grid. As a result of all this PV generation, utility companies will need to install: enough power/copper cable capacity to carry the energy; a communications infrastructure will have to be created that allows smart applications to occur and for the different components of the network to talk to each other; software applications are required that allow a smart way to balance intermittent power generation with intermittent power consumption, whilst maintaining operational parameters for voltage and frequency. The creation of this, much vaunted, ‘Smart Grid’ is in its infancy. One current problem is that in the residential and commercial building sector PV is connected in a random way; we are seeing ‘Green Cul-de-sacs’ where a small enclave of residents will install PV which will then create a strain on the network that was simply not designed to handle the creation of so much power in a small area. So therefore there is a move towards vastly improved monitoring (and metering) of the network in order that such potential problems can be identified and then a solution, be that smart switching technology or whatever, can be applied.

 

INTELLIGENCE

The Eaton Smart Grid network

The Eaton Smart Grid network

Completing the Smart Grid picture for the utility companies in the Gulf is the trend towards bringing intelligence to the MV level. Once intelligence has been introduced at the low-voltage level, there is still a gap to be bridged to make that information available on the medium-voltage level and allow communication. In case of a failure, utility companies know where the high-voltage network is down, but they don’t have any details about what is happening at the medium voltage level, (about the last 30 miles) and about which users are connected or disconnected. Today, Eaton estimates only 5-15 per cent of sub-stations are actually automated; this means that most sub distribution is done manually and the utility company has to send maintenance personnel out to the transformer stations to check for local failure and take appropriate action. This is costing utility companies time and money and fully automated pilot projects are starting to happen.

 

STORAGE, OTHER ISSUES

Looking further into the future, a topic that is currently causing enormous debate in Europe and which will surely start to have an impact in the Gulf in the near future is that of energy storage. In Germany incentives have been implemented with the objective of aggregating energy storage across the grid so that in effect ‘an extra power station’ is available should it be required. But, this in turn raises questions around the access to and networking of this power and in some countries energy storage is classified as generation and distributors are not allowed to ‘generate’ power which complicates matters even further.

The political, regulatory and infrastructure challenges that orbit around the term ‘Smart Grid’ will have a huge impact on the technology that utility companies choose to implement in the coming years and we at Eaton, due to the breadth of our product portfolio and our on-the-ground capability, are in a position to provide intelligent solutions that improve reliability, drive efficiency and reduce costs.




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