Leveraging Technology for Energy (Electric Utility) Optimization

Smart EnergyGlobal warming and climate changes, high carbon emissions causing pollution, increasing oil prices are some of the few concerns facing the global economy, countries, administration and the common man. This is driving rapid advances in many alternate solutions like renewable energy, alternative energy, efficient generation, distribution and consumption of energy. Smart Grid is one such initiative which looks at electricity as a source of energy and attempts at efficient generation, distribution and consumption of the same. It also provides for integration of alternate and renewable energy sources as well as allows for distributed generation right up to the end consumer. Smart grid is an electricity system that connects all supply, grid and demand elements through an intelligent communication system. It delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using digital technology to control appliances at consumers’ homes to save energy, reduce cost and increase reliability and transparency.

Globally all countries have started some initiatives in Smart Grid and have also passed several legislations and incentivized industries and consumers to move in this direction. A recent research report published by Innovation Observatory reveals that utilities worldwide will spend US$378 billion in Smart Grid technologies by 2030.India has massive investment plans and will be at number 3 behindChina and US in Smart Grid technologies investment. The demand in India for these services is expected to reach over to serve 130 million Smart meters by 2021.

Key technology and modernization initiatives taken include the following: These can be leveraged by the utility company to be more competitive and continue to be relevant in the industry for future:

In Generation of Power

  1. Implementation of alternate fuels and sources of generation: Harvesting wind energy in farms, ocean waves in coastal areas, solar energy, switching from coal based turbine to gas based turbines or shale gas in future, where the shale gas (which is entrapped in deep earth crust) could provide the next source of bio-fuels. Recent interests in nuclear fission or nuclear fusion, or ethanol which is plant based fuels are also revived.
  2. Increased alternative storage of energy on low demand to balance the peak generation: In certain countries extra generation is used for pumping water to lakes on the mountain or upstream river in case of hydro-electric generation. New technology enables energy storage in new forms of solid state batteries

In Transmission and Distribution of Power

  1. India’s transmission and distribution losses are among the highest in the world, averaging 26% of total electricity production, with some states as high as 62%. When non-technical losses such as energy theft are included in the total, average losses are as high as 50%.This was one of the key reasons why the distribution segment has been picked up first by the Government. Likewise all countries are facing a certain degree of transmission and distribution losses due to older technology, passive (non controllable, non-monitor able) equipments. Companies are embarking on newer initiatives in building asset management systems, replacing older passive equipments with self managed and controllable newer equipments to reduce the network outage and transmission and distribution losses.
  2. Replacing equipments like transformers with newer equipments which monitor the oil for viscosity, density conductivity etc for better proactive management. Automating the entire distribution network – cables sensors, load factor adjusting active condensers, manageable transformers, even conductivity of cables is controlled to ensure minimum transmission and distribution losses. The network is connected to various generation sources and manages the inputs, distribution and storage of power for maximum efficiency and staggered loads.

In last mile distribution to home or office

  1. Systems and controls to manage a set of homes by dividing the electric load into essential and non essential load and also staggering the same. Example the heating units or cooling units could be fired in a staggered manner to avoid spikes of demand and balance the demand load.
  2. Installing two way meters and encourage households, offices and factories to install solar panels on roof tops, The generated energy is synchronized back to the grid. The household, office or factory units get the net bills and when households are away for vacation and do not use much energy, they might even get a cheque from the utility company for energy supply to the grid.
  3. Creating variable time of day based billing model so households, factory and office units can consume non essential power during off peak hours paying off peak rates.
  4. Educating the consumer by providing consumption analytics- like percentage of bill used for lighting, percentage used for heating/cooling, percentage by different equipments like washing machines etc also benchmarking this and absolute consumption with neighborhood by demographics and advising the consumer for more efficient usage of energy.

Inside a Home, Office or Factory

  1. Manageable energy efficient equipment is installed at homes and utility company might provide an option to the consumer to manage the non essential load like wash load in off peak hours thereby saving the electricity during peak hours of usage.
  2. Remotely managed or time managed devices to program consumption cycle of devices to save energy for example during the day when home is empty the air-conditioning or heating could be tuned down and switched on just in time when the first member of the family returns. Owens and microwaves could be fired just in time to saving repeated heating.
  3. All devices could be managed and optimized by weather patterns in the region during the day.
  4. A smart home could also integrate the controls of lighting, heating security systems and non essential consumption loads to affect only the occupied areas and not having to continuously manually switch on and off and reset devices.

Many of these are in initial trial stages and many have pilots going on in smart cities and it will not be too far in future when all of these will be common place. It is for one of the few times  that the goals of environmentalists, politicians, Industry business and consumers are well aligned.

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