Smart grid technologies can ensure energy across borders
The European Commission has announced plans to finance a cross-border energy infrastructure by 2050 to support its goals for climate neutrality. But, achieving this will necessitate a significant scale-up of Europe’s infrastructure.
The cross-border energy infrastructure will be crucial in realising the Europe Union’s (EU) goal to reach 80 per cent production from renewables by the middle of the century. But a real challenge will be in implementing a system that works across national borders — and this doesn’t only relate to the energy supply itself. Stable market prices will also be vital to how successfully the network functions.
First let’s look at energy supply using an example of an Ovarro customer, one of the biggest grid managers in the Netherlands. The grid manager can overrule the control of a big wind turbine farm and other assets that deliver energy to the grid. If there’s too much energy on the grid, Ovarro can switch it off depending on the parameters set by the customer. These parameters relate to supply and demand based on a programmable logic-based system with set points, plus trusted 24/7 support and consultation from Ovarro’s network specialists.
The end result is that the right amount of energy is being pumped into the grid at the right time, avoiding congestion and potential outages caused by too-much energy.
Aside from the operational benefits, these programmable parameters can also be set to suit market prices. Put simply, the energy supply can be increased while prices are low or increased while prices are high.
But what happens when we introduce multiple countries, with their own currencies and market situations, into the equation? Here, energy supply can be handled at a power exchange.
Power exchanges operate in an open trade context. As described in the book Regulation & Investments in Energy Markets, agents can declare their production or consumption schedule directly to the system operator, or they can submit bids for buying and selling power to exchanges. Existing power exchanges include the Amsterdam Power Exchange (APX). The APX was continental Europe’s first electricity exchange that created a spot market — a public financial market where financial instruments or commodities are traded for immediate delivery — for electricity.
The APX fundamentally altered the way utility companies operate and how cross-border energy deals can work. This principle, and the supply and demand capabilities of a spot market, could benefit the EU’s cross-border energy infrastructure plans. But it will need advanced systems to work — specifically, smart grid technologies.
Choosing an action
Smart grid technology — including software-based components with communication capabilities — are mostly associated with increasing the reliability, security, and efficiency of energy grids. As with any network, the main goal is to establish a reliable communication network. Unlike in water networks, where a disturbance in communications won’t affect the whole grid, communication failures in energy grids can result in catastrophic shutdowns and power outages.
So, communications are key to network resilience. Resilience is tied directly to managing data loads on the grid — as with our example of the Ovarro customer in the Netherlands in its wind turbines. Managing data loads ties back to fluctuating market prices. To ensure energy volumes and market prices are optimised, remote monitoring of power consumption and continual asset management are vital.
This is where remote telemetry units (RTUs) come into play. The Datawatt DSG-RTU or the TBox RTU from Ovarro, for example, allows telecommunications operators to monitor incoming supply from the main grid, plus any local backup generation or backup storage at their facilities. The Datawatt IoT-connector platform connects the internal systems together and controls the RTUs in the field.
Similarly, a recommendation in the 2017 study Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electricity System by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine states: “It is also important to differentiate between actions designed to make the grid more robust and resilient to failure, and those that improve the effectiveness of recovery.”
In the event of a grid failure, an RTU can help operators decide what action to take to ensure the network continues to perform uninterrupted. This can apply to any data network — as in the case of another Ovarro customer, Vodafone, which a problem with an interconnection caused by a fire in one of its data centres. Its customers weren’t receiving any service and, if the system goes down, market prices go crazy.
Ovarro systems like the Kingfisher RTU can be configured with fully redundant power supplies, computer processing units (CPUs) and multiple communication paths. For a situation like that faced by Vodafone, the customer can continue to manage intensive SCADA and telemetry applications, even in the event of a partial system failure. An RTU helps the customer take the option to switch to a backup energy supply and avoid unnecessary market volatility as a result.
RTUs can prove vital in a cross-border energy infrastructure as they are designed to be installed in remote locations, including in areas where power is either unreliable or unavailable. But, alongside RTUs, we must also consider software.
Stream webscada, for instance, is designed for controlling and managing geographically distributed processes or networks. The software combines with dataloggers and RTUs and provides better insights for process optimisation with smart algorithms. This data acquisition can be expanded with third party information such as weather information or energy market prices and monitored from a centralised location through a PC, smartphone, tablet or iPad.
Maintaining resilience in the EC’s planned cross-border energy infrastructure will requires a holistic understanding of preparatory, preventative and remedial actions, plus impact planning and an understanding of all the different kinds of grid failures. RTUs plus powerful software will play a critical role in supporting the scale-up of Europe’s ambitious plan to deliver energy across borders.
Etienne Hilgen is engineer and developer at Ovarro