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Implementing Rewiring the nation.  How do we future proof our networks - Reliability, security and resilience.

This article is part 1 of 5 in our current series on “Implementing Rewiring the nation.  How do we future proof our networks?"It looks at reliability, security and resilience and discusses the importance of having a reliable grid.

The articles together seek to provide an overview of current thinking regarding the many challenges associated with the energy transition to a zero-carbon power system.  It has been developed by reviewing a number of CIGRE Electra strategic articles that have been produced over the last twelve months together with a limited review of other associated articles.  From this, five challenging areas have been identified as needing global attention. 

They are: 

The Challenge 

A reliable grid is a prerequisite for everything from communications to health care, water supply and treatment, food storage and other aspects of modern life.  Electricity production is responsible for 25%[1] of global greenhouse production. Decarbonising current electricity production also enables transport and other industry segments to connect to the grid and therefore reduce much more than 25% of greenhouse production.

There is a growing desire to decarbonise the power system as soon as possible.  However, as electricity is an essential commodity, there will be an expectation within communities that reliability and security will be maintained.  The rapid growth in installation of renewable generation may outpace the readiness to transition, exacerbate inequalities and reduce resilience. For example, the changing power flows will drive the need for new transmission lines.  These traditionally take several years to design and construct and require extensive environmental and social impact investigation.  It is likely that the implementation of these transmission projects will lag their need, resulting in a reduction of reliability or an impediment to the speed of the renewable energy transition.  Marginalised communities are more vulnerable to grid outages and the impact will be greater if these areas have an even greater reliance on the grid.

Decarbonisation is a global imperative, so the transition must be enabled in all parts of the world.  New technologies are building greater resilience through areas such as smart controllers, distributed generation and energy storage, enhanced distribution etc. Unfortunately, incentives to improve may not benefit marginalised areas.  Switching to renewables before the system is ready will reduce reliability. All resources and incentives are biased towards countries that can afford them.  It will be important to ensure global mechanisms are put in place to reduce this bias.

New business models and investments in infrastructure must consider grid resilience and look beyond the grid into the communities it serves.  These investments have traditionally been based on asset lifetimes of 40 years or more.  With rapidly changing technology this business model is much less certain.

New approaches to infrastructure may help industry to meet the demands of the transition. However, impacts on reliability and security must be taken into account.  For example, interactive energy management will utilise the convergence of energy, information and mobility infrastructure. As part of this, electric vehicles will be driven by AI and 5G technology.

Use of data storage is already ramping up but a further massive leap in data storage and associated power consumption is expected.  In Japan, data centre energy consumption will equal 10% of domestic consumption by 2030 or 90TWHrs[2].  Ideally data centres will be located where renewable energy is plentiful and fibre optics will be used to transmit information to users. Locating the data centres close to renewable generation will be more efficient but this must be balanced against impacts on security of the data. 

Despite the current commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, there is an expectation that global temperatures will still increase for some time yet.  This is expected to lead to a higher frequency and greater intensity of major disasters.  Extreme weather events over the past few years with record breaking floods and fires, have illustrated the growing fragility of the power system. Actions to increase the resilience of the power system will therefore be essential.  This may take the form of approaches to speed recovery after the event or to increase the ratings of equipment or replace with alternate technology that is more suited to these extreme events.

Examples of actions underway 

  • Two areas of research by new, recently convened CIGRE working groups recognise the complexity surrounding the energy transition process[3]. These are:
    • Market interventions by SO’s during emergency situations.
      These interventions may increase as we transition the power system. Interventions are to prevent ongoing market activities causing further deterioration and/or adverse influence on the restoration process. These interventions may also be subject to scrutiny by regulators and other stakeholders.
    • Impact of machine learning based AI in operation and control of power networks.
      There is currently a growing use of AI in many activities. As complexities of operating the power system grow there is greater consideration of the use of AI to manage them.  This applies for consumers and large-scale users to manage energy usage to generators and suppliers using advanced computational techniques.  New entrants such as Tesla are more likely to be from non-traditional areas. Examples include, downstream operations, forecasting, outage planning and congestion management.  It is critical to understand any risks associated with the use of AI, particularly where there is elimination of human judgment.

  •  A recent review into the electricity supply and demand situation in Japan considers what is needed for carbon neutrality and a stable energy supply[4]. Included in this is the consideration of ensuring the resilience of local communities before explaining the challenges for the system to achieve this and the need for societal implementation of a new framework for industrial collaboration. The review also considers how we can learn from the lessons of the March 2022 Japanese energy crisis. 
  • The move towards greater decentralisation within power systems is leading to different sub-system designs for power systems. Examples are work by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory[5] and similar research in Germany.  Arguments are put forward in overall favour of sub-systems with recognition that more work is needed so that local optimisation results in global optimisation.  There is also a view that many diverse sub systems should result in a more resilient overall system. 

[1] ELECTRA_321-energy-transformation-evolving-from-legacies-to-aspirations-inclusive-of-all

[2] ELECTRA_328-the-fourth-industrial-revolution-empowered-by-end-to-end-electric-power-system

[3] ELECTRA_321-energy-transition-new-studies-for-new-challenges-in-system-operation