Smart technologies at heart of transmission and distribution

Paul Boughton

Demand-side initiatives in New Zealand, Turkey's link to the European grid and improvements to network reliability in the US all rely on the latest smart technologies. Sean Ottewell reports.

New Zealand company Transpower has begun discussions with interested parties on a multi-million dollar demand-side initiative in the Upper North Island to help defer investment in new assets.

The project, to which approximately NZ$10m (EUR5.6m) initial funding has been allocated, is part of the $110 million (EUR62) upper North Island Reactive Support programme of work approved by the country's Electricity Commission in August to bring greater reliability in the region.

At a recent meeting, Transpower set out its expectations for the initiative. "This is a smart investment. We are looking for interruptible load we can reduce temporarily under severe conditions: particularly during very hot summer days in the region," said Transpower chief executive Patrick Strange. "Businesses will be paid to participate, and agree that their non-essential electricity usage can be reduced automatically under certain conditions."

Initially Transpower would be looking to target and secure industrial and large commercial load that can be switched off for a few hours at a time without affecting normal business operations. Examples include refrigeration plants and some industrial processes. Ultimately, says the company, there may be scope for a more mass consumer product, but this needs much more investigation which it intends undertake over the next couple of years.

The benefits to the grid are significant, and allow Transpower to defer investment in new assets. The initiative will also provide valuable headroom to meet demand during construction of existing infrastructure upgrades.

The project will provide funding for some of the intelligence the grid will progressively need to meet New Zealanders' electricity requirements in the future, leading to an environment where consumers will have greater control over domestic consumption.

"We had a limited trial of similar technology recently in the South Island, and it was very successful," said Strange.

"The upper North Island project is a more advanced initiative; businesses which choose to participate can have their supply adjusted remotely, under agreed conditions. The key investment that we're seeking to encourage through our funding is in the technology needed to undertake that remote control. It is not unlike remote hot water ripple control - but much smarter and involving much more load."

In addition to the demand-side project, the $110m (EUR62m) upper North Island Reactive Support programme will include the installation of two static var compensators (STATCOMs), one each in Auckland and Northland. STATCOMs are electronics-based equipment that absorb (when transmission voltage is too high), or provide reactive support on a transmission network (when transmission voltage is too low).

The new STATCOMS are planned to be installed in Auckland and North Auckland in 2013 and 2014.

In Eastern Europe, Turkey connected to the European electrical grid this September using smart grid technology, a move that will bring the country increased energy and economic opportunities.

The Turkish Electricity Transmission Company (TEIAS) is now able to buy and sell power in the European electricity market and the connection should help strengthen the reliability and availability of energy throughout all of Europe.

"The territory serviced by the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) is one of the highest demand regions for energy in the world," according to a report issued in 2009 by the country's Ministry of Energy. "The energy policies of ENTSO-E's countries are driving a single market model through the synchronisation of more networks, thus increasing the reliability of the supply of electricity to maximise the efficiency of generation, transmission, distribution and consumption of energy while minimising environmental impact," the report added.

Cleaner energy mix

Connecting Turkey with the rest of the European grid is an important step to help meet these initiatives. The cross-border system may also enable a new, cleaner energy mix for Europe. There is a demand for renewable energy in European countries, and Turkey has massive renewable energy sources, which makes this new relationship mutually beneficial to both TEIAS and ENTSO-E.

GE's smart grid communications and wide-area protection solutions will monitor grid status at the points of connection and automate the control of generation and load within the country. The system will optimise power sharing and power quality while improving reliability and preventing cascading outages. GE completed the engineering for the system in a matter of months.

GE is also busy in the US, where Massachusetts-based NSTAR Electric is expanding its GE-powered 'self-healing' grid project throughout its service territory to improve power reliability for all its customers. GE's smart grid technology automatically identifies the location of power outages, isolates faulted sections of the network and re-routes power from other sources, essentially 'healing' the system.

The initial rollout of GE's switch controllers is expected to show a 50 per cent decrease in the number of customers affected by failures on main line circuits. The technology is currently operating in a portion of NSTAR's service territory and, with the help of US Department of Energy stimulus funding, NSTAR is now expanding the project - marking the nation's first utility system-wide deployment of its kind.

"The hot, humid weather we've been experiencing this summer pushes electric systems to their limits," said Tom May, NSTAR chairman, president and ceo. "Our investments in smart grid technology are already helping to lower the number and duration of outages. So our customers, who rely on electricity more than ever in this digital age, are seeing fewer disruptions in their lives. The expansion of the GE technology throughout our system will help deliver increasingly reliable service."

By connecting sensors, switches and breakers with smart communications and information processing throughout NSTAR's service territory, GE is helping to ensure that the grid can monitor and diagnose many problems by itself. If a crew is required to respond to the problem in the field, the system can isolate the outage and reroute power so fewer customers are affected during the repair process.

"Nobody likes it when the lights go out," said Bob Gilligan, vice president - digital energy for GE Energy Services. "Unplanned power outages are a major economic burden. In the US alone, they cost the economy over US$80b each year. While we don't have the technology to prevent a traffic accident or stop a tree limb from falling, we do have the technology to dramatically reduce how these events affect the flow of electricity. Now, in a matter of minutes, NSTAR's power grid will make decisions and alter energy flow to restore power to a portion of customers almost immediately."

Smart grid components

GE is providing hardware, software, communications equipment, configuration and testing services for this upgrade. The project will be completed over the next three years.

In other US news, with the final approval of a US$33.9 m matching grant to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association from the Department of Energy, 19 electric cooperatives now embark on a novel, nationwide demonstration project deploying more than 153,000 smart grid components across the country to test the value of the new technologies for cooperative consumer members. Authorised by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the smart grid research grants, together with the US$3.4b in smart grid investment grants, are part of a federal initiative to identify and develop new and more effective smart grid technologies

Also Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) is now moving forward with implementation of a smart grid throughout its Central Maryland service territory. "Following the Maryland Public Service Commission's approval of our project ... BGE is pleased to move forward with our ambitious smart grid programme and deliver the significant transformational benefits of smart grid to each of our 1.2 million customers," said Kenneth W DeFontes Jr, president and chief executive officer of BGE.

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