How are today’s advanced technologies and the digital transformation shaping both the present and future of the utility industry? Altran’s Stuart Borlase is the Editor-in-Chief and co-author of the second edition of a book that highlights the latest technologies, business drivers, benefits and market outlook of the smart grid initiative.
Times have Changed
Traditional electric grids – those networks of lines, substations and transformers powering our businesses and homes – are well past their intended design life. In the USA, for instance, the national electric grid was first developed in the 1890s, and although it has been updated and upgraded many times since then, its infrastructure essentially remains unchanged. Yet load demands and grid operation have changed over the decades. While it would be a major and costly undertaking to upgrade the entire grid infrastructure, new technologies and solutions are the key drivers and enablers of grid modernization.
With smart grids comes the prospect of increased grid efficiency, availability and reliability. The utility industry has made great progress in grid transformation and modernization since the first edition of this book was published five years ago – at that time, smart grid was primarily in the pilot and proof-of-concept phase. Fast-forward to today, where smart grid efforts are more than just “advances in technology” and the focus is on achieving synergies with the integration of operational and IT applications, data analytics and the internet of things (IoT).
Focus on the “Grid-Edge”
One of the most significant changes in the grid has been at the “grid-edge,” the part of the distribution network closest to the customer and at the customer interface. Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) and IoT will be key technology deployments at the grid-edge. Meter communication networks are now proving to be valuable foundations and operating experiences for real-time communications to the grid-edge. Pervasive and cost-effective sensors and controllers will also be essential for the smart grid IoT, and to enable transactive energy exchange between customers in an open retail market. The emphasis will be on device interoperability and data connectivity.
Power to the Prosumer
Essential to the shift in focus on the grid-edge is the need to view the customer not as a ratepayer, but as one of the key stakeholders in the smart grid: as both producers and consumers of energy, aka prosumers. Utilities need to move away from being the commodity, cost-based supplier, and generate greater customer value through more energy choices and services, while allowing customers to participate in the open market in real-time. Disruption will not only be in terms of technology advances, but also about transforming the way utilities do business with new processes and revenue models. Innovation will ultimately be the driver of the disruption and transformation.
These are exciting and challenging times ahead for the utility industry. With input from more than 100 leading experts in the industry worldwide, Smart Grids – Advanced Technologies and Solutions (Second Edition), guides readers through all the issues, technologies and challenges ahead to ensure a cleaner and sustainable energy future.
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