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Smart Grids are About to Get a Whole Lot Smarter

Michael Weinhold's picture
Siemens Energy
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  • Jun 10, 2014 12:00 am GMT

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smart grid development

Hello everybody,

Here is the next part of my insights into the future of energy from an interview given for TheEnergyBlog.(link to )

I’m looking forward to your comments and ideas.



What would power plants be without grids?  “Grids are the glue that holds it all together,” said Dr. Weinhold. “They are a highly efficient means of transportation, and efficiency in transmission is obviously critical in terms of cost and practical delivery.”

Dr. Weinhold predicts significant advances ahead for grids: “I see a very wide span of development. I see super-grids where we tap into attractive renewable resources like wind, hydro and, in the southern Europe, solar. The grids will be critical in ensuring this renewable energy gets to the right place at the right time. The consumption density is so high in cities that you cannot produce enough electricity there. Smart grids will help ensure that their needs are always met in the most efficient manner possible.”

He believes rapid advances in software will continue to make grids ever more efficient and, of course, smarter. This, in conjunction with Big Data, means they will have the potential to anticipate and smoothly meet the rapidly changing needs of different load centers distributed around the grid. The smart grid of the future will intelligently source and allocate energy, drawing from both renewable and non-renewable sources, as required to ensure smooth and reliable delivery.

“There is also something happening in end usage that will impact on grid development,” said Dr. Weinhold.

“Here I refer to LED lighting and other low voltage gadgets we use. They make local DC conversion and on-site usage a practical option, which will change the way grids distribute DC. This is not science fiction, it is happening already.”

Prof. Dr Weinhold discusses the future of Energy Storage in the next post in this series.

More about the future of energy:

The rapidly accelerating future of energy

Conventional and Renewable Energy Will Dance Even More Closely Together

Photo Credit: Smart Grid Innovation/shutterstock

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Geoff Sherrington's picture
Geoff Sherrington on Jun 14, 2014

Of course, we would not need grids to be so smart if we had not made the stupendously stupid decisions in various countries, to fool around with alternative energy inputs that are expensive, dirty (in terms of noise, compatible phase, frequency, and power factor & intermittency.

It is almost the case that the requirement to keep spinning reserve (often gas fired) to fill the gaps where the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow, is so large that one should adopt the wiser tactic of doing away with alt eng inputs to the grid and simple beef up the spinning reserve generators until they are ding the job independent of alt eng.

Of course, in those rare cases where factors like isolation make alt eng either financially or prudently viable, then it should be used. But for major power in the long term? No, quite a worry. The present generation of investors in major plant like aluminium smelters and refineries do not seem to have a mind set that can picture such plants driven my windmills or solar arrays. It’s too intermittent. Continuity is the key. As you move down a spectrum from such smelters to other heavy industrial use, the opposition to alt anergy seems to drop off, but only slowly. I’d guess that people will get rid of much major alt eng in the next 2 decades as users realise that even though smart grids might help, they are just another cost component in a fileld where costs are too high already.

Michael Weinhold's picture
Michael Weinhold on Jun 27, 2014

Smart Grids Monitor and Control the Power Supply System

The discussion about alternative energy sources often deflects the focus away from the “main issue”: Smart grids are not about generating 100% of our electricity from renewable energy sources; this is initially of a lower priority. The main focus here lies on structural changes; to be more precise, on a flexible power supply system. And this is not possible without restructuring the current system.

If power generation and storage, supply and demand and grid management are merged, all the players in these fields could be integrated into the power market. This is why we need an “intelligent” infrastructure that handles load management, evaluates the given volume of data and manages and monitors grid conditions and ultimately controls these conditions.

Intermediate storage facilities such as pumped-storage plants or hydrogen storage systems will also pay a significant role in these intelligent configurations. I have already stated my position on this at this year’s Hanover trade fair – for more, follow this link I will discuss the topic of hydrogen storage later in more detail in a separate article.

The implications for the above considerations will be far-reaching: 1. A centralized energy system will become a distributed energy system – and this will apply equally to large power plants, to combined heat and power plants and even to small rooftop solar systems. 2. A system that has, up to now, been passive will be given an active role in the future, thanks to high-performance information and communications technology (ICT). ICT will enable networking and interaction between and among the active players, which has not been possible to date. And this leads to 3. Smart Grids permit the flow of electricity in both directions: from the central power plants to local electricity sources and back to the grid; and they also allow us to integrate renewable energy sources into this system. 4. Small power providers can merge to form larger units or virtual alliances and stabilize the grid. 5. Intelligent electricity meters will enable consumers to not only “tap” electricity at reasonable rates or feed their surplus energy into the grid (at the best price), but will also allow them to act as buffers for surplus electricity, for example using batteries from their electric cars. 6. Savings incentives and automated energy management are important tools in this process for avoiding load peaks and monitoring and regulating power needs.

Summary: As the VDE (Verband der Elektrotechnik, Elektronik und Informationstechnik (German Electro-technology Association)) so aptly put it, smart grids are in actuality energy information networks which can be intelligently controlled. They coordinate supply and demand, continuously optimize the flow and storage of electricity and ensure that the grid infrastructure is optimally utilized. Smart Grids will not spring up all at once; we will have to develop partial solutions (software, hardware, telecommunications interfaces, Internet technologies, automation technology, etc.) as we move forward. Although this will cost us time and money, it will, at the same time, also open up completely new opportunities.


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