Interview with Dr. Jan Mrosik, CEO, Siemens Smart Grid Division. Siemens are diamond sponsors for this year’s Metering, Billing/CRM Europe and Transmission & Distribution/Smart Grids Europe.
What are the challenges faced by the smart grid industry today?
Above all, the growing integration of power from renewable energy sources into the power system represents a full-fledged paradigm shift for power grids. In the past, there was a clear distinction between generators and consumers, but this distinction is being blurred today due to photovoltaic and wind power systems. Power grid operators need to come to terms with the fact that electricity no longer flows in one direction, but in two, due to the rise of the “prosumer.” But power grids were not designed for such bidirectional flows.
Making matters even more difficult, the electricity fed into power grids from renewable energy sources is highly irregular, due to the fact that they are largely dependent on the weather. When high demand meets low supply, it creates a situation that stresses the infrastructure tremendously.
Besides the integration of electricity from renewable energy sources, what other drivers do you see?
Smart grids are being driven by totally different trends, depending on the market in question. In some countries the primary goal of employing smart grid technology is to ensure the functional capacity of ageing infrastructure. In other countries, the highest priority is to employ smart grid technology to prevent people from not paying their electricity bills.
But the answer to these different kinds of challenges is still the same: smart grids. And we should move quickly in that direction, because otherwise the risks to energy security will increase dramatically. That’s why we need to move smart grids away from pilot projects to implementing them on a large scale and thus elevating them to a new level.
What concrete answers can Siemens offer to overcome these challenges?
We have developed a product portfolio we call the Smart Grid Suite, which provides solutions for generation grids, microgrids, demand response and smart metering systems. The portfolio consists of devices equipped with decentralized intelligence to protect powerlines, ensure power quality and measure power consumption. We have also developed a communications network to connect the data generated by these devices to centralized IT systems, where the data is aggregated and utilized to manage the system in the most secure, efficient and economical manner possible. With these products, existing infrastructure can be utilized more completely, while operators benefit from greater transparency with respect to the condition of their networks and the ability to enhance system stability still further by connecting and disconnecting generators and consumers in a targeted manner.
Our portfolio also includes a comprehensive service offering, as well as network planning and consulting services. High voltage networks have long been highly automated. After all, this infrastructure is critical to the functional capacity of the entire power system. But such intelligence is still largely absent in the distribution networks. In the last few decades, we have repeatedly demonstrated our ability to automate HV networks with this product portfolio. Now we want to also equip distribution networks with smart grid technology and thus elevate the phrase “smart grid” from just a buzzword to a business model.
What kind of demand response system would be able to shift consumption into times of high supply?
In early trials conducted with the utility company RWE in the Ruhr region, it was found that night storage heaters, for example, can serve as good complements to renewable energy sources. In the past, such devices did not have such a great reputation because they were charged up only at night using a simple ripple control system operating on the basis of a rigid schedule. As a result, heat was not always available when it was actually needed. Using wind powered heating systems, on the other hand, night storage heaters can be charged up flexibly whenever abundant energy, say from photovoltaic and wind power systems, is available. That makes these heaters considerably more convenient for the affected households.
Furthermore, demand response systems are being used not only to solve problems related to electricity from renewable energy sources. In the United States and Canada, for example, we are currently in the process of implementing such systems for the purpose of overcoming existing power supply bottlenecks. In the affected places, residential households are given incentives for disconnectable loads such as air conditioning systems, and utility companies do not need to invest in new power plants.
One often hears the term “self healing networks” in connection with smart grids, and what does that mean?
I can explain that with reference to an example from the United States. There was a hospital connected to two power supply lines. One day, a construction crew accidently cut one of the power cables and so it would have been necessary to flip a switch that would have switched the power feed to the other line. Like most systems of this kind, however, it was not automated and consequently the hospital had no power at all. Therefore, the electricity company had to send personnel into the field to fix the problem. That usually takes considerable time, and in this case it took longer than the hospital could be supplied with battery power. So how did we solve the problem? By means of two devices that communicate with other almost instantaneously, using the WiMAX radio system. If one of the feeder lines would fail, the automated communication between these two devices can restore power. That is the idea behind self healing networks: cables that have been cut are not rejoined by some magic hand, rather smart grid technology is employed to make full use of existing redundancies.