World Energy Congress, Istanbul, Turkey, 10 October 2016: Electricity grids need a new model, one that puts power in the hands of consumers.
A panel discussing smart electricity transmission grids emphasised the importance of two driving forces behind their widescale implementation: data and consumers.
With its potential to promote efficiency and transform the way companies and consumers interact with electricity, data was highlighted as a central benefit of the smart grid. Electrical grids collect huge amounts of data, which is frequently lost to both utilities and consumers.
But while consumers will be key in the transition to smart grids, bringing them on board with the change may not be easy.
Julian Hardy, CEO, Eseye, said, “Consumers have an apathy to data. They focus on cost, on environmental footprint and access to energy in emerging markets.”
“Whoever controls the presentation of this data as a tool will have a major impact on its uptake,” he added.
Consumer access to this data could mean smarter power choices about which method to use for residential heating and when to charge electric cars.
Panelists stressed the importance of the security of the system. With Hardy saying, “At the end of the day, you’re dealing with consumers’ lives.”
Leonhard Birnbaum, Member of the Board of Management, E.ON, and Vice Chair for Europe, World Energy Council, concurred: “The stakes are very high.”
“We need to manage this transition,” Birnbaum said. “[The grid] is the basis of the wealth of our society. If it breaks down, we cannot recover.”
Panelists agreed that consumers will be the key factor in bringing about the transition to smart grids, once they see their benefits.
“I very much believe in the power of the prosumer. If you can make a case for smart grids to the prosumer, there will be a drive for change, TTTech’s Georg Kopetz said.
“We will have a bright future if we can manage to get the consumer as the driving force for this change.”
A smart grid is the incorporation of internet technology into electric power infrastructure. An important component of the smart grid is the use of smart meters, which consumers and utilities can use to track electricity usage and predict demand, resulting in increased efficiency. The digitalisation of the electricity grid also holds potential for the greater integration of renewable forms of energy, such as wind and solar power. Where previously the addition of renewables would have had to be synchronised with the sources of the grid to avoid voltaic fluctuations, the smart grid allows the energy to be added at transmission and distribution levels and stored until needed.
Smart grids smaller sub-stations rather than a single large power plant, meaning the system is less at risk for fall out from natural disasters. When there is a problem, sensors can isolate the problematic line and re-route the power. In order to mitigate overloads, the system can recognise peak load problems and divert power as necessary to prevent outages.
Smart grid technology is being employed in countries such as China, India, Brazil, and Turkey as they seek to increase their energy efficiency.