By Kathleen Davis, senior editor
The third annual POWERGRID Europe convened in Cologne May 26-28, 2009. During the three days of sessions, exhibits and networking, one trend emerged: The smart grid dominates the industry mindset.
This dominance was supported by speakers from the CIRED conference June 8-11, 2009 in Prague. Both shows revealed a T&D future with an eye on intelligence.
In an overview session arranged by the Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET), Pier Nabuurs, former chairman of the EU’s SmartGrids Technology Platform and the CEO of KEMA, said that while the smart grid does lay out a number of challenges for the transmission and distribution (T&D) side of power, the industry needs to see those issues differently.
“Where there are big challenges, there are also big opportunities,” he said. “But, smart grids are critical to sustainability targets and security of supply policy goals.”
A look at POWERGRID Europe’s show floor.
According to Nabuurs, a smart grid willenable customer participation, accommodate all generation and storage options, enable new products, optimize assets, anticipate and respond to disturbances, operate resiliently against attacks and natural disasters, provide power quality for the 21st Century, and enable fundamental changes in transport and buildings.
Two of those smart grid advantages Nabuurs listed (accommodating all generation and enabling customer participation) were discussed heavily by other speakers in the IET session, as well as other speakers across the POWERGRID Europe conference and CIRED as well.
If You’re Talking Generation and Grid, You’re Talking Renewables
While traditional fossil-fuel forms of generation will benefit from the smart grid implementation on the horizon, the POWERGRID Europe speakers focused heavily on renewables.
Nabuurs sentiments on renewables were echoed by others, including Dr. Eddie O’Connor, CEO of Mainstream Renewable Power in Ireland and also a speaker in the same IET opening session.
Nabuurs said that “sometimes in this industry, we are afraid of renewable sources,” and Dr. O’Connor supported that statement, but he stressed that the industry should not see the shift from fossil fuels and one-way transmission to renewables and two-way transmission as the darkening of the power industry.
“There are those who thought we are at the nadir of the electricity era, but I believe we are at the dawn of that era,” O’Connor told a crowd at the opening POWERGRID Europe session.
In O’Connor’s mind, a smart grid can help with that greatly, since he sees the greatest problem to sustainability tied to the lack of power movement–those old-fashioned, one-way T&D systems on which fossil fuels rely. Between the archaic grid and the varying regulatory environments, a number of barriers to an open movement of power exist. But, according to O’Connor, an open movement of power is vital to the future of renewables, a smart grid and affordable power.
O’Connor has proposed a “super grid,” a mainly offshore transmission system tying renewables together and allowing a free movement of electricity in Europe, as well as in the United States. Like the Pacific Ocean’s volcanic Ring of Fire, O’Connor’s super grid would tie together continents through a water-centric power platform. O’Connor has even predicted that 40 percent of the world’s power will come from offshore by 2050.
While O’Connor’s super grid may be about as volcanic in the power industry as the Ring of Fire is in the Pacific, his basic ideas are not off the mark: Many industry insiders are predicting that renewable energy is on the verge of a shift from periphery to primary.
One of the well-attended POWERGRID Europe conference sessions this year was Grid Integration for Renewables. Technicians from ABB and Siemens, university academics and system operators discussed the best ways to put renewables onto an evolving grid. They discussed everything from offshore wind to virtual power plants embedded into the smart grid.
Even the keynote session speakers for the three co-located conferences (POWER-GEN Europe, POWERGRID Europe, Renewable Energy World Europe) focused heavily on connecting in renewables. In that opening keynote, Dr. Johannes Lambertz, president and CEO of RWE Power AG in Germany, talked about the environment and security of supply being the two key challenges to power today. And, renewables, in his opinion, can answer both of those calls, given the right regulatory and market environments.
Back in O’Connor’s own session, his renewables push was supported by Francois Nguyen, senior policy advisor for electricity markets with the International Energy Agency.
“Transmission needs to adapt to the changing generation mix,” he told attendees, noting that the agency has already seen an increasing trend for renewables in the generation mix and that it predicts the trend will continue to grow.
But, convincing the industry is one thing, convincing the customer is another.
The Smart Grid and Your Consumer
As the industry moves toward a smarter grid, it will require a smarter, more engaged power consumer. But, there is a growing debate about whether the consumer will care.
Nabuurs said, “Many people say customers are not interested (in smart grid-related usage information), but, 10 years ago, they said the exact same thing about the Internet.”
Nabuurs believes that consumers do, indeed, want to be informed and that, given the opportunity to be involved in their own patterns of consumption, they will react with the same gusto that gave the Internet explosive growth.
But, he admits that such a notion would require a grid that’s “creative, dynamic and organic.”
CIRED’s 20th International Conference and Exhibition on electricity distribution convened in the Prague Congress Centre June 8-11, 2009 and echoed many of the sentiments revealed by POWERGRID Europe’s speakers, including the push toward renewable integration and the interest in empowering the consumer.
Prague was the setting of CIRED 2009.
“The program for CIRED 2009 reflects the ever-changing business and political demands of all aspects of electricity distribution,” said Dr. Tony Headley, the chairman of CIRED 2009’s organizing committee “(The show) reflects the interests of all sectors of the industry–electricity distribution companies, regulators, manufacturers, consultants, universities and research centers and major industry users.”
The addition of “users” into the grid equation is a new aspect to both the focus of CIRED and of POWERGRID Europe. More and more shows previously aimed at just industry insiders are including industry outsiders. And that awareness of the consumer continues to grow.
CIRED 2009 started with a general opening session on Monday, where Ralf Christian, the president of the T&D Europe association noted that Europe is the global leader in the manufacture of T&D products, representing nearly 25 billion euros in 2007 alone.
Siemens anchored a corner of CIRED’s exhibit floor.
“We’re on track to an all-electrical world,” Christian said, noting that the growth of renewables, however, offered new challenges for the “traditional, linear” grid.
He said, “The grid, by and large, already has a lot of smart technology. It’s already very smart,” but issues with balancing large renewables deployment and distributed generation will arise as Europe moves from “a uni-directional grid to a bi-directional grid.”
Noting that the current grid has great potential for improvement, Christian noted six specific areas for new technological advancement.
Under the area of transmission, Christian called for solutions for long distance bulk power movement, large electricity trading volumes and interconnections, and grid integrity and blackout protection. Under distribution, he requested the integration of decentralized generation, smart metering and a “shift in paradigm.”
That shift in paradigm, or a shift in industry thinking, according to Christian, would require engineers and industry insiders to stop thinking old school with “generation follows load” and start thinking more progressively, a “load follows generation” concept. Christian believes this paradigm shift to be imperative to reaching the mandated EU climate goals, among other industry solutions.
“The basic technology needed is available today. The problem is deployment,” Christian said. “We need power that flows from smart generation through the grid to smart consumption.”
The concept of smart consumption and smart deployment hit home with the second speaker as well. Bob Gilligan, vice president of T&D for GE Energy. His solution is smart grids.
Focusing on the economic crisis, energy security and potential environmental challenges, Gilligan noted that all those issues could be assisted with a smarter T&D grid, which would help increase the number of renewables online, making energy more productive and, as has been noted in many energy shows this year, increasing consumer empowerment.
Inside the Show
Increasing consumer empowerment has even moved from general sessions to technical specifics. It was the focus of paper 0438, Smart Multimetering and Dual Fuel Tariffs for Integrating Active Customers in Smart Grids. Given during Session 5, Power Distribution System Development, the paper discussed how automation will spread not just from the network “down” in distribution systems, but also back “up” the system from the end-user as well.
The presenter, representing Italian grid group CESI, revealed how open meters and multimetering is imperative for a smart grid, that consumers must be involved and informed. D. Moneta, the presenter, spoke at length on how architecture should include a local energy manager with four specific functions: load management, storage management, dispatching and heating management.
Environmental considerations, which were discussed at both POWERGRID Europe and in passing at the opening general session for CIRED, were also at work inside the show, with a number of papers, including 0270, talking about the technology to add in such renewables to a taxed and growing distribution equation.
0270, The Role of Communication to Enable Smart Distribution Applications, was presented by C. Yuen with ABB Switzerland, with contributions from the University of Edinburgh and the Imperial College London. Ms. Yuen revealed the growing importance of information and communication technologies on distribution automation caused by recent changes in the distribution system, including the increasing integration of distributed generation and the facilitation of responsive demand.
Both of those papers, given in Session 5, were well-received by the crowd that packed the room to standing capacity. While other sessions, including Session 4’s Distributed Energy Resources, dealt specifically with renewables and DG, the inclusion of those topics across the board in other more general sessions only reinforces the fact that concern is widespread across the industry.
Overall, both European electricity shows, POWERGRID Europe and CIRED 2009 revealed a growing acceptance of renewables, detailed examinations of the technology required to reach European climate change goals and a burgeoning awareness of how to keep the consumer in the equation.
Kathleen Davis, senior editor with Utility Automation & Engineering T&D, is also the conference director for POWERGRID Europe. She has no affiliation with CIRED.
Kathleen’s blog on CIRED and her thoughts on the show can be found online in the June archives for the PennEnergy Power Blog. On the Net: www.pennwellblogs.com/power/