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09 Aug 2022

Why the digital grid is key to RE integration

Smart grid, RE integration
Taru Madangombe
Smart grid, RE integration

As global utilities try to fast-track their journeys towards achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, more focus is needed to ensure that digital systems are in place that will enhance the incorporation of different energy sources into the network – seamlessly – and without compromising the integrity of the grid.

Energy is a key topic in the decarbonisation and climate change narrative, with an estimated 80% of all CO2 emissions coming from both energy generation and consumption sides of the value chain. Therefore, utilities should consider not only the type of energy sources they need to integrate into their grids but also the efficiencies on the consumption or demand side. 

Renewable energy is a key driver for addressing climate change – yet of the total carbon emissions produced by the world’s energy utilities, it is estimated that about 45% originate from the primary or generation side, while the remaining 55% is produced on the demand side of the value chain. So, while it is good for utilities to rely on alternative sources of energy such as renewables for energy generation – to cut down on emissions – it is equally important for them to address issues on the demand side to ensure they accelerate their journey to net zero emissions.

The future is renewable

The future is certainly renewable; however, the ongoing geopolitical events in Europe could potentially impact this global energy transition towards sustainability and net zero emissions. There are currently two distinct schools of thought around this issue. Some energy experts believe that the rising cost of fuel is spurring a gold rush for investment in fossil fuels, at least in the short term, and this is slowing down decarbonisation progress. Another school of thought holds that as supply from a major global producer of oil and gas dries up, many nations are accelerating their investments in renewable energy.

Regardless of how these two scenarios might play out, the world is at a very critical period in the value chain of energy transition. In terms of renewable energy, what stands out most is the integration of renewables into the energy grid. 

For example, it is inferred that the recent mass blackouts in the US and Germany could be as a result of the instability of the grid, owing to intermittent renewable energy integration, which adversely affected regional connections. The integration of renewable energy sources, especially on distribution networks, appears to be significantly changing the behaviour of the grid and this needs to be properly managed by incorporating available technologies such as distribution energy management systems (DERMS & ADMS).

Active demand management

This has created the need to introduce active demand management systems on the grid to seamlessly integrate renewable energy, without compromising the integrity of the grid. In other words, utilities need to be going the smarter digital route, with a smart grid being key to having full visibility of what is happening on the network.

Many utilities in Africa do not have full visibility of their networks, meaning that they are not able to monitor activity and ensure adequate revenue management. However, the technology is there to enable utilities to go through the current energy transition seamlessly, but they should guard against simply digitising the grid just for the sake of digitisation.

Managing data insights

What’s most important is that utilities actively manage the data insights they obtain from a smart grid to have enough information to make decisions about how to best run the network. It is all about active demand management and electricity 4.0 – these are the digitised grids of the future, which enable utilities to manage and balance what is happening on demand and supply side seamlessly. 

It remains critical that utilities address the issue of climate change and reach net zero emissions by 2050. To do this, industry and regulators must play their part. At the same time, technology providers have a role to play in providing systems that will ensure more reliable and sustainable, resilient grids are built that allow for seamless integration of renewable energy sources.

This blog is authored by Taru Madangombe, Power & Grid Segment Leader: Middle East & Africa, Schneider Electric. It is originally published on ESI Africa

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