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Unified cloud-based tech will become key to distributed energy resource integration

image credit: 'Renewable' by Seagul Source: Pixabay CC0 License
Amy Ryan's picture
Marketing Executive Wattics

Currently the digital marketing strategist at Wattics Ltd, well-versed in all things related to energy management, green building and sustainability. Previously, event liaison (Spintelligent Ltd)...

  • Member since 2019
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  • Jan 25, 2019 1:00 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2019-01 - Predictions & Trends, click here for more

As we head into a brand-new year, with January practically behind us, we look to what lies ahead in the coming months, perhaps even some in a full-fledged panic, as 2020 climate and energy targets draw closer and closer.

2019 will be a crucial year to take stock of what has been achieved, but more importantly, address what has not been accomplished toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions, decreasing the use of fossil-fueled power, increasing the uptake of renewable power sources and improving energy efficiency.

Much has been written about the trends, technologies and policies along with other variables that will shape and influence the energy sector this year, with considerable emphasis being placed on blockchain technology, Internet of Things (IoT), electric mobility, energy storage and how to manage potential security risks as infrastructure becomes increasingly digitised.

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One common prediction across the many reports to emerge, is the continued growth in renewable energy adoption, predominantly solar and onshore wind, facilitated by supporting policies, declining renewable energy costs across the technology spectrum, expanding investment interest in the sector, advances in battery storage and so on.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the average cost of power generation from all commercially available renewable energy technologies will be competitive with fossil fuels by the year 2020.

average fossil fuel generation cost
Source: International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

Renewable energy costs will continue to decline

The cost of solar has plummeted in the last 10 years, with the decline expected to continue. Solar PV module costs have fallen by more than 80% since 2009, states IRENA.

Levelised-cost-of-electricity-projects-and-global-weighted-average-for-CSP-solar-PV-onshore-and-offshore-wind-2010-2022
Source: International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

Furthermore, according to its 2018 PV Status Report, the EU’s Joint Research Centre states that solar power attracted the largest share of new investments in renewable energies for the 8th year in a row.

Fueled by the Internet of Things, the marginal cost to produce and transport renewable energy is heading towards zero. In the future, individuals, communities and businesses will produce electricity locally and will be able to publish their production data online. A plethora of electric cooperatives will be producing and selling electricity as a whole. It is reasonable to believe that energy companies should have to sell less electricity and instead manage energy flows and harness data from local producers and consumers. This energy transformation brings an unprecedented set of challenges for all the major stakeholders including utilities, distribution system operators (DSOs) and transmission system operators (TSOs).

Increasing pressure on T&D system operators to effectively manage distributed energy resources (DERs)

A growing concern for DSOs is the rapid increase of non-synchronous generators such as wind and solar that produce a variable amount of electricity depending on the weather. This unpredictability is more difficult to bring onto the grid. The paradigm shift from a traditional power system (i.e. a small number of large generators feeding into the transmission network and then connected to consumers through the distribution system) to a distributed network of small renewable energy sources (RESs) is well documented. The much larger number of renewable energy sources which often feed energy at the distribution level enables the two-way flow of energy. This, together with demand-response, storage and consumption peaks, greatly increases the congestion of distribution networks.

Need for a unified cloud-based platform to visualise and manage DERs online 

The solution lies in a solid IT infrastructure which integrates all data from renewable energy source inverters and provides a unified cloud platform that will greatly simplify the management of the smart grid. Although there are several services in the market that focus on acquiring energy consumption data from utility meters, smart meters and IoT devices, today, the primary need is the integrated collection of local energy data from distributed energy producers such as solar panels, local wind generators and local energy storage.

Having an integrated online application program interface (API) that allows DSOs and third-party developers to easily access real-time distributed renewable energy source data (DERs) will create a wide spectrum of applications to optimise:

  • Flexibility from the supply side
  • Flexibility from the demand side
  • Adoption of large-scale energy storage
  • Network interconnection and distribution
  • The design of short-term electricity markets
  • Coordination between management of networks and flexible RES

A key element to the success of such a platform is the ability to integrate data streams from a variety of renewable energy sources, files and repositories ensuring that all the data collected at the site level is seamlessly available through industry-standard communication interfaces. A review on the market has shown that the major solar inverter providers have private cloud databases hence opening possibilities for getting renewable data automatically from the manufacturers of the different brands.

Through such a platform, DSOs will have the ability to:

  • Mitigate the need for flexibility by reducing the production data from the day-ahead and intra-day market, e.g. to 5 min instead of 1 hour1
  • Better guarantee the security of supply
  • Improve the use of large shares of renewables to avoid unnecessary investments and solving congestion by querying energy sources in real time by geographic area
  • Increase the size of the balancing control areas. Having a larger area over which the energy is traded mitigates the need for greater resource flexibility based on the fact that weather patterns are decorrelated over large distances, rendering a less volatile renewable energy sources production profile when aggregated over a large geographic area.2
  • Define the conditions of a well-functioning electricity market which creates a business case for stakeholders

Beyond DSOs, a unified platform will transform the global market of renewable energy source analytics enabling an abundance of third-party cloud applications and services including but not limited to mobile-phone applications, demand-response applications, better management of renewable sources as well as local and distributed trading of renewable energy towards a totally new level of efficiency and productivity for businesses and households.

 

References:

R.R Verzijlbergh, L.J. De Vries, G.P.J. Dijkema, P.M.Herder: Institutional challenges caused by the integration of renewable energy sources in the European electricity sector. Url: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032116307651#!                                                                                                                        

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Thank Amy for the Post!
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Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Jan 25, 2019

Great article Amy. Do you envision a standard for data exchange that will allow the flow you describe to occur? Thanks..

Amy Ryan's picture
Amy Ryan on Feb 5, 2019

Hi Richard, thank you for your comment. There are already so many standards that try to address the problem at device and communication level: for edge devices (sub-meters and gateways) we have a plethora of variations of Modbus or MBUS, then at communication level we have LoRa, Zigbee etc, at smart grid and IoT level we have standards such as DLMS. Other standards have been trying to converge at application level such as GreenButton that converts readings into XML format but still with so many variations of it. Essentially the issue is that there is a huge variation of existing standards across manufacturers, which is defeating the purpose by which those standards were created in the first place. We see a significant gap between the current situation and what a software engineer needs: a simple API in the most common development languages such as Java or Phyton or Ruby to develop applications

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 25, 2019

Great article, Amy. 

Not the main point of your article, but man I'd love to see an animated representation of how this one graph has changed through the years:

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 25, 2019

Amy, the article you reference addresses the European electricity market only. It should serve as a cautionary tale, not an example:

European Union carbon emissions grew 1.8 percent in 2017 despite a 25 percent increase in wind power and 6 percent growth in solar, figures show. The European statistics body Eurostat this month reported that carbon dioxide emissions rose last year in a majority of EU member states.

Distributed energy resources are partly to blame. The notion many sources of energy and increasingly-complex transmission requirements might improve energy efficiency will give any competent electrical engineer a rash.

As a Renaissance philosopher once remarked, simplex siguillum veri - "simplicity is the sign of truth". Conversely complexity, in a market where millions of customers are consuming an identical product, is a sign someone's being taken to the cleaners.

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