SCI-FI IN ACTION. DIGITALIZATION OF ELECTRICITY
An unexpected twist following the announcement of a new Global Energy Prize Association’s book on breakthrough ideas for the future. Has the future arrived?
... To be honest, even we, at the Global Energy Prize Association, thought that all of this was pure fiction. Of course, the concepts of things being digital and the electricity are related. But just think about the phrase: “The digitalization of electricity”! Even in the world of gadgets we would have thought, that this phrase belonged in the 22nd or 23rd century.
Yet, in a recent interview with our Association, our laureate Frede Blaabjerg from Denmark insisted his chapter in our new book “10 Breakthrough Ideas in Energy for the Next 10 Years” will be devoted to that particular subject: the digitalization of electricity.
As it happens, and despite the coronavirus, Russian power engineers said that the prospect is even closer. In just five years, they assume, by 2025, the digital communications system in Russia will cover 100% of the facilities of the Unified National Electric Network (UNEG). We asked our laureates and experts what they thought of this plan. So, is it all fiction or not?
Let us first of all remind ourselves of what Professor Blaabjerg talked about. He said: “The issue with electricity in general, is that you need a balance in terms of what you are consuming and what you are producing, so if the consumption goes up you have to you have to put more power into the grid and if the consumption goes down, then you have to lower the production. And in order to be able to do that, we need much more control of the grid”.
Probably even a secondary school pupil would understand this. But then Professor Blaabjerg raises the issue of a digital system of communication, automation, and modelling. The simplest example is when it’s not an observation crew, but rather a computer, which locates a wire cut. So, instead of hours of searching, a repair crew is sent instantly to the spot. But whilst such a concept is more or less understandable, what do you think about the prospect described by Blaabjerg that in the future neighbours will build their microgrids and trade electricity among themselves?!
THE FUTURE IS TODAY
In response to the Blaabjerg interview our partners from Russia’s Rosseti company commented, that after the adoption of the Digital Transformation 2030 Concept, 30 digital facilities have already been commissioned by them. In particular, 9 network control centres, 2 electric grid districts, 19 substations of voltage classes ranging from 35 kW to 220 kW have already been built.
According to the company, the Project for the Employment of Electricity Storage Systems is almost complete. Equipment has already been installed on two sites – a housing community in the Province (Oblast) of Belgorod and a district hospital in the Oblast of Vladimir. During the peak loads energy storage devices reduce losses and maintain high-quality electricity supply, further ensuring standby power supply in case of an accident, which is extremely important for hospitals, especially now in the time of the current pandemic.
Moreover, despite the coronavirus, in May 2020, Rosseti will launch the second phase of its pilot projects in order to test the following digital technologies: control of “smart grids” or “microgrid,” the diagnostic testing of overhead lines using UAVs, predictive analytics of equipment failures and many more.
When we shared this with Professor Blaabjerg, he was quick to respond: “I can see that a phase II is mentioned in one of the documents – we will see big changes in the next 20 Years”, Blaabjerg said.
Yet, it seems, that changes will happen even sooner.
A LITTLE MORE FROM THE DEPTH OF RUSSIA
In response to the interview with Professor Blaabjerg such co-founders of our Association as the FGC UES have presented their projects in most remote regions of Russia, too. The 500 kV Tobol Substation is a pilot project built in the Tyumen Region (Siberia) for power supply to the largest petrochemical plant in the contemporary history of Russia.
In general, as stated by the FGC UES, “All [of their] substations are equipped with automated billing metering systems. The company created a digital communication system, covering more than 86% of facilities of the Unified National Power System (UNPG) which is controlled by Rosseti FGC UES. By 2025, the indicator will grow to 100%, all substations will be tracked remotely from unified control centres”.
THROUGH THE EYES OF RUSSIAN SCIENTISTS
Development of these technologies is closely monitored at the National Research University "Moscow Power Engineering Institute” (NRU "MPEI"). According to its rector Dr. Nikolay Rogalev, required digital foundation is being created for the further development of smart energy technology. Quote: “At the university’s Competence Centre “Technologies for the Transportation of Electricity and Distributed Intelligent Energy Systems” work is underway to create technologies that will ensure the automatic functioning of energy systems without human intervention in normal conditions and restore them in case of accidents. What is important, the software is domestic.
By the way, Rogalev emphasised that the university clearly understands the request from private companies for the training of personnel in new specialties. This year, the university will release its first group of graduates specialising in A.I. on protection, automation and control of energy systems. In addition to the traditional electrotechnical disciplines, they studied the practical application of artificial intelligence methods in the electric power industry.
But let’s get back to what our Danish laureate Frede Blaabjerg talked about and what, in turn, was elaborated by Steven Griffiths (UAE), a Global Energy Prize International Award Committee member and Senior Vice President for Research and Development at the Khalifa University of Science and Technology (KUST).
Griffiths pointed out that in recent years, power utility companies and electricity grid operators globally have been concerned with the rise of distributed generation, particularly solar PV. Quote: “We have seen a rise of energy trading, increased occurrence of grid-tied microgrids, an increasingly complex set of software and hardware solutions for distributed energy resources management and adoption of electric vehicles. This evolution of the grid has led to an electrical grid that is increasingly hard to manage”.
In this regard, having read both Professor Blaabjerg’s interview and the comments by the Rosseti, Griffiths came to the conclusion that Russian companies chose innovations as the way to may forward: “Rosetti FGC UES, for instance, has undertaken a development program that leverages digitalization to improve the operational reliability of equipment as well as monitoring and control of the power grid without the need for human intervention.”
THE FUTURE IS FAR AWAY
On the broader concept of Rosseti, which is called “Digital Transformation 2030” Griffiths took a look into the future, Griffiths commented: “The technologies being piloted include blockchain for electricity trade, connected electricity storage, low-power wide-area networks for remote data exchange and a “digital electrician” technology”.
For his part, José Rodríguez, Professor Universidad Andrés Bello, Fellow IEEE (Chile) noted that the introduction of digital technologies in electrical grids is a trend that will increase in the future: “The use of these technologies will increase the operational reliability, the controllability and the economic efficiency of the grids. In addition, the use of more digital technologies will enable the development of artificial intelligence in the operation of electrical grids, reaching higher levels of quality with an increase of profitability”.
The Global Energy Association will continue to monitor and stimulate this very interesting debate. And this is just one of the topics for our future report named “10 breakthrough ideas in the energy sector for the next 10 years”.
When we thought that this post-Blaabjerg’s interview piece was already finished, we received one more comment from Europe. That what we got from the Sauro Pasini, Head of New Technologies Deployment Technical Support, Global Generation Enel S.p.A:
“The documents you sent me are impressive and I can confirm that digitalization in Russia is progressing focusing on the sectors of greater importance. I agree completely with the strategies emerging from the two documents I received: the first step towards the digitalization of the energy sector should start from the realization of the infrastructure of the future "digital" grid, as clearly expressed by the two development philosophies. This is a prerequisite; there are probably in Europe countries and companies (I'm thinking of Enel) that are far ahead in this area as percent on the infrastructure/clients covered, but Russian direction is clear and consistent, it is only a question of investments and time. Interesting and innovative is the evaluation of the potentialities of LORAWAN technologies for remote transmission of information, that is an area currently explored by largest utilities in EU.
The other phases following infrastructure realization, which involve the intelligent use of the information collected for business planning, operation and personnel management are absolutely in line with what is being done in the rest of Europe. Both companies are making reference to the use of robots for monitoring and controlling their infrastructure, another important pillar of digitalization.
I've also seen the mention of the use of blockchain for real time management of the interaction with market participants, that is still a research and controversial subject, being not yet clear the real advantages of this technology.
In summary, from the information received I'm seeing that Russian movement towards digitalization is in line with what is done in the most advanced countries in Europe and is covering all sectors of importance. Russia is still in a phase in which it is building and setting in operation the system: in the near future among the items mentioned in the development program, items like Big Data and Artificial Intelligence will start appearing”.