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10/03/2011

The smart grid revolution

Today, everyone knows the famous "smart meter" allowing monitoring consumption minute after minute. However, the smart meter is only a part of the "Smart revolution" which involves managing many other constraints such as data's collection. Italy was the first European country to implement smart meters and the amount of subscribers amounted 27 million in 2005.

While in Belgium, energy distributors are working on the replacement of the regular meter in 2012, in France, 300 000 households will be soon equipped with smart meters thanks to the Linky experimentation. However, the Linky deployment is just a prerequisite to the "smart gird" development. Today, 35 millions meters are read every six months, tomorrow thanks to the smart meter, they will be read every 10 minutes. Beyond this advantage, a real smart-grid will optimize many other constraints experienced by the network: decentralized generation, new prospects of storage, electric cars. Therefore, the number of data's and analysis will raise considerably.

Investment in complex tools

To meet the smart-grids challenges, complex IT tools will need to be implemented. They will help to optimize changes and evolutions undergone by the network.

First, we need to focus on the integration of decentralized energy. These energies are growing very fast, in particular solar and wind energy. These energies are sometimes detrimental to the stability of the network and can cause cuts, as it already happened in Germany. Through a better monitoring of the network, a better equilibrium can be reached between energy extractions, injection of renewable and storage.

Furthermore, in order to face the main the challenge of decentralized energy, energy storage will allow the full use of renewable energy by storing the electricity produced when this electricity is not needed.
If other techniques are still under investigation, two storage methods are emerging: the storage by hydraulic pump (using the electricity available to store water which will produce hydroelectric power) and the storage by using batteries from electric vehicles when they are not in use. Therefore, electric vehicles will need to be integrated to the smart-grids logic in order to reinsert energy and bring out the famous concept of vehicle-to-grid (V2G).

Lastly, the business model for the deletion of peak demand is still to find. We can imagine that attractive tariffs can be offered to customers if they commit to limit their consumption in peak hours or turning off energy consuming devices for a short time. In either case, consumption peaks reduction avoids network saturation, especially in regions located at the end of the network (such as Bretagne or the PACA region). Moreover, the electricity used during consumption peaks is generally generated by a production very carbonaceous.
Peaks reduction will have a direct impact on the environment and emissions of CO2. In United States, for example, a 5% drop in peak demand would avoid the use of 625 power plants which correspond to an annual savings of $ 3M!

Problems no longer separately considered

Thus, all the constraints supported by the network will now be treated in a correlated way. For example, the electric car that used to be considered as a network problem is, today, used to adjust distribution networks. Thus, the links between storage, renewable energy and peaks consumption are strong and need to be treated together.

Therefore, beyond the aggregation of data, it is necessary to develop information systems that enable data analysis and action plan. The incentive is strong the markets are to be taken: the investment amounted to over $ 7 billion for China and the United States, just for 2010.

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