The power grid is facing numerous challenges. Here’s how it can adapt!
Clearly, this is an important time for the energy industry in the Middle East. The region is accelerating its embrace of clean and renewable energy generation, distributed energy resources, and electric vehicles to power its economic development and growth. In the middle of this transformation lies the grid, the true enabler that controls, analyzes and transmits this clean energy to end users.
Despite renewable energy constituting only six percent of total installed power generation capacity in the Middle East and North Africa region, current trends show that this landscape is rapidly evolving, and significant developments are taking place. In 2016, USD 11 billion was invested in renewables across the region, compared with USD 1.2 billion in 2008. That’s a nine-fold increase in only eight years. Today, several countries in the region are among global frontrunners in renewable energy development.
Projects underway to share electricity among the region’s countries is another challenge (think of the Gulf Cooperation Council Interconnection Grid project with the planned expansion to connect Gulf grid to the wider Arab region and Europe). Broader interconnections will allow power-sharing between the different countries in the region, a move that will help reduce energy costs and promote sustainable and renewable power generation.
But, to accommodate this change in the electricity landscape in the region, the "grid" – the network of power generation plants; transmission systems, control centers and distribution systems, that brings power to homes and industry – must be upgraded.
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Rethinkingthe grid from the bottom up
The grid was built according to a one-way model where power is generated centrally around major cities and transported through different means of transmission to consumers. With the emergence of advanced, smarter technology, consumers can become energy producers or “prosumers” and store energy themselves, creating a two-way power flow.
Wind and solar further complicate management of the grid because they are variable – they vary with the weather conditions. You can’t ramp them up and down as we do with fossil power plants. The sun comes up, you get a flood of power from all those solar panels; the sun goes down, you get none. This vastly increases the complexity of matching supply to demand in real time, and creates an urgent need for flexibility.
Increasing the amount of renewable energy in the grid also will need a large volume of energy storage. To store excess power from renewables during non-peak hours and provide stable supplies to end users, large-scale lithium-ion batteries or hydrogen fuel cells should be an essential component of any expanding grid with diversified resources of energy supply.
Electrification of transportation and more buildings also will have a major impact on demand. Demand Management becomes a need more than before, providing consumers with the mean to manage the power consumption in an economical manner.
Electricity producers and utility companies throughout the region are already working to manage grid reliability, in a rapidly evolving environment. When outlining a strategy to strengthen the grid, grid operators should consider these guiding principles:
1) Have a clear vision ofthe future of the grid and align it with the overall energy mix within thecountry/region.
Investment plans will need to deliver tangible short-term benefits. Programs should be resilient across a range of scenarios with respect to changes in technology, business models, and customer expectations.
2) Look at how the grid isoperated.
To make these investments economical, it is imperative that thoughtful consideration be given to the way that the grid is operated, making best use of the flexibility of installed and new assets to compensate for the variability of different resources. Grid modernization needs to accommodate multiple desired outcomes and ways to achieve them.
3) Avoid building a newversion of the old grid.
All utilities and grid companies will need to invest in smart technologies and solutions that enhance grid automation, optimize power usage, and improve asset management. However, they should avoid merely adding more conventional assets to their existing base. Instead they should embrace new solutions.
How the grid evolves, both physically and digitally, will determine how economical the transformation to these cleaner energy resources will be, and therefore how quickly they are adopted. Implementing digital solutions within the existing conventional physical systems is one important way to move forward. It will bring numerous benefits to utilities, including:
- Enabling grid operators to have greater understanding and control of the current state of the network.
- Helping improve the grid flexibility.
- Improving the ability to integrate increasing levels of renewable energy generation.
As the world navigates the energy transition, faces the pressing need to tackle climate change, and addresses the desire to provide electricity to the nearly 1 billion people without access, it is clear that now is an exciting time to be in the industry. Electricity is and will continue to be essential to tackling these challenges, and the power grid will remain the enabler ensuring electricity gets to where it’s needed.
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