Energy system integration: All systems go


The European Commission has unveiled an energy system integration strategy. Claire Volkwyn examines the detail and finds out how it could be delivered.

The key to a successful energy transition will be to seamlessly integrate a variety of systems.

Electricity, gas and heat will converge into energy systems that will be optimised at local and regional levels. Realistically, siloed systems cannot deliver climate neutrality by 2050 in a cost-efficient way.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International Issue 5-2020.
Read the mobile-friendly digimag or subscribe to receive a print copy.

By linking and integrating the various systems into a more cohesive whole, it will be possible to make great efficiency gains than if each of these systems is tackled independently. Of the users and facilitators of the energy sector, distribution system operators, in particular, will be able to maximise the efficiencies of integrated systems.

“Energy system integration is not just one energy system,” says Torsten Knop, head of European Regulation at Innogy.

“It’s many energy systems, and it’s energy systems at a local and regional level as well.

And I think that energy system integration, in order to succeed must rely on the concept of an energy transition, built bottom up.

“The energy system integration should happen wherever it’s feasible and where it makes sense in small units, very small units, medium-sized large ones and the overall system.”

The new EU strategy of an integrated energy system will involve various existing and emerging technologies, processes and business models including ICT and digitalisation, smart grids and meters and fl exibility markets.

The new European strategy is taking advantage of all of the technology and economic developments during the last year and putting together into a consistent and coherent package as a system of systems.

Graphic credit: European Commission

The framework of the energy system integration strategy is the Recovery Plan released on 27 May 2020, and from a legal perspective, the Clean Energy Package, which really encourages the integration of infrastructure and the integration of carriers and sector coupling.

The actions are defined in the strategy and have been set out as follows:

  • A more ‘circular’ energy system, with energy efficiency at its core. By working from an ‘energy efficiency first’ principle and utilising local energy sources more effectively there is potential to reuse waste heat from for example, industrial sites, data centres or other sources.
  • Greater direct electrification of end-use sectors, by increasing the use of electricity for heating or transport among others. An example of where seamless and efficient integration could occur is in the electrification of transport. Electric vehicles connect the transport and power sectors, but also buildings where charging points are often located. Currently, there is only a very limited interface between these three sectors.
  • Where necessary, the promotion of clean fuels, including renewable hydrogen and sustainable biofuels and biogas.

The Commission will propose a new classification and certification system for renewable and low-carbon fuels.

There are 38 actions to create a more integrated energy system, including: the revision of existing legislation, financial support, research and deployment of new technologies and digital tools. Also guidance to member states on fiscal measures and phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, market governance reform and infrastructure planning, and improved information to consumers.

Says Rafael Coelho da Silva, head of innovation at global infrastructure and networks at ENEL: “Value chains or processes, managed in an integrated view, could bring huge value and efficiency to stakeholders in general.” Da Silva spoke recently to attendees of a webinar on energy system integration hosted by Enlit Europe. He spoke specifically on efforts by ENEL to make system integration a reality.

He shared that ENEL has created a network digital twin. ENEL believes that this innovative platform is an enabler for DSOs around the world to contribute in the energy transition and optimize energy systems.

This digital twin of the network has emerged from the complete digitalisation of the ENEL energy distribution infrastructure and its surroundings. The network digital twin is a live three-dimensional virtual replica of the physical network elements and its electrical and information flows. The platform includes not only the elements of the electricity network, but also the entire urban surroundings of the city where the assets are based.

The platform consists of four layers. The first or foundation layer creates a digital replica of the network’s assets by capturing high precision images of electrical substations, streets and all buildings using laser scanners, videos and demographic images. The entire underground infrastructure is also scanned and the data is integrated with information of energy flows, allowing a simulation of the operation of the network in a completely virtual world before going to the real network operation.

The second layer consists of dynamic data coming from IoT devices and sensors installed in the fi eld. The platform collects information in real time from substations and the network, such as temperature, current voltage, etc. ENEL is in the process of evaluating how to promote the use of 5G connectivity to enhance the use cases.

The third layer consists of the application of artifi cial intelligence – that is the recorded twin intelligence and it is used for anomaly detection applications, preventive maintenance, optimisation of the network operations, people safety, prediction of vegetation growth, risk maps for the city etc.

“Last but not least, is the human interface layer. For this layer, we leverage the availability of real time data to disrupt fi eld work. This could result in more autonomy, precision, security, speed, and decisions more grounded in data and in new modalities to answer clients’ demands and address constraints in managing daily activities,” says da Silva.

This layer includes augmented, extended and virtual reality.

How can the network digital twin contribute in optimised sector integration?

The answer is quite straightforward. The full digitalisation of the grid could contribute to the concept of systemic effi ciency. This was recently explored in a white paper from the World Economic Forum in May this year.

“Basically, by creating this comprehensive view of what happens on the grid, and simulating what might happen on it, the technologies support not only system operation on a daily basis, but also network design, capacity to reduce system losses and integration of distributed energy resources,” da Silva continues.

The utilisation of the network digital twin also fosters new forms of engagement with other utilities in general, including telcos and gas and water companies, from municipalities and technology partners or customers.

The information available via the network digital twin is very useful for different stakeholders for several use cases, such as cost reductions and safety in particular.

ENEL has been able to develop data exchange creating a digital urban platform that connects institutions and stakeholders within a sustainable ecosystem. Da Silva highlights a number of potential use cases. ENEL collaborated with a telecommunications company to use “our existing 3D images to plan their expansion without having to go out in the field.

“They can do this 100% remotely. They could also rely on our IoT devices to undertake troubleshooting when they have a service quality problem on their network.

We can also optimise our telecom system to manage crises like the pandemic that we’re living through right now. The same elements, 3D and IoT – these devices could be very helpful for municipalities to manage different crisis situations.”

A water and or gas utility could blend their work in a much more effi cient and safer way if they have access to mapped underground infrastructure inside the network digital twin. Da Silva says: “Another example comes from the 3D data of the terrain and the underground maps that could be useful for municipalities to execute more effi cient urban planning including new construction or the electrifi cation of transportation, running feasibility tests and studies with fewer field visits.

“Another example is related to vegetation. The vegetation monitoring and growth estimation models that we run could allow cities to optimise the pruning and maintenance of urban parks and gardens. And last but not least, the combination of the 3D images and artificial intelligence could really reduce the risk on the population specifically related to weather events.

“ENEL’s ambition in transformation goes beyond the power supply. We see this digitalisation of the network as an opportunity for stakeholders to become more active players in the design of a brighter future and also enabling the energy transition as a whole.” Da Silva explains that in Latin America “we have already started interactions with utilities and municipalities to test real use cases and the benefits associated with data sharing. Specifically, in São Paolo, you’re carrying out discussions now with stakeholders to set the parameters on how to develop these API connectors to our systems, trying to find ways to unleash this API economy potential.

“And in addition, we are also leveraging our innovation labs and hubs that we have to scout new technologies and enhance the existing ones to contribute to the network digital model.

“This is not science fiction anymore. I’m happy to say that we think we have a great opportunity with the network digital twin to really make a difference as a company.”