It’s no news that there’s been a paradigm shift in energy generation and consumption. We’ve developed from the one-way, centralized energy production-consumers, to a dynamic, and distributed energy generation system. Things are changing rapidly, and it’s vital for the stakeholders in the power grid to respond to the evolving demands of energy use and production.
For this post, we’ll focus on the Distribution Service Operators (DSOs), as a principal stakeholder, to see how they can optimize their roles and take advantage of this dynamic energy production system. To start, let’s examine the distributed energy production and see what makes it peculiar.
Characteristics of Distributed Energy System
Unlike the centralized and one-way energy system, distributed energy systems have the following features:
- Energy production is commonly from renewable energy sources like solar, wind, mini-hydro plant, and bio-fuel.
- The energy source is close to the load that they serve, which decreases the energy lost from the transmission line.
- The capacity of a standard distributed energy source is lesser than 10MW.
Integrating these peculiarities in the distribution network requires the network operators to evolve in their capacity to manage such a dynamic system.
Transitioning Into an Active DSO
Before now, the traditional responsibility of the DSO was centred around planning and maintenance of the grid, managing supply outages and energy billing. However, the advent of DEPs has evolved their roles from network operators to active system operators.
Also, DSOs used to be the intermediary between the Transmission system operators and the energy consumers. Now, new actors like aggregators and prosumers have emerged, giving the DSOs more parties to manage to have a reliable and efficient system for all.
To have DSOs function fully as active system operators and to take advantage of the distributed energy systems, there are vital factors that should be in place. According to an IRENA brief, the following factors are crucial to enable DSOs to carry out their actual roles.
- An appropriate regulatory framework
- A secure data management plan
- Smart grids and digital technologies
- Improved communication with consumers
Let’s dive-in to see how these factors can influence the performance of the DSOs.
An Appropriate Regulatory Framework
Policies and systems that will favour the performance of DSOs need to be in place. And this starts with clearly stating out the roles and responsibilities of DSOs to guide them on acting on what matters. The dynamic nature of the distribution grid could lead to a confusion of roles and have them doing less on what should have been a primary priority.
Also, there needs to be a standard of operation for prosumers and aggregators least they go uncontrolled and abuse the distribution system. Every stakeholder should know how far they can go in their activities.
The regulatory framework should also involve setting a comfortable atmosphere for innovations in distributed energy management by providing incentives to the procurement, research, and businesses involved. The policies should also include mandating the implementation of smart-grid technologies on stakeholders like prosumers and aggregators.
A Secure Data Management Plan
There are lots of data and information of the grid available to the DSOs; the consumers’ data on location, electricity consumption, billing, there are also data from the DEPs that are connected to the grid, the type of energy source, the production rate, and pattern, location, the stability.
The DSOs have access to all these data, and it essential that the data is managed according to regulatory standards to protect the rights and privacy of the parties, especially the consumers. Therefore, a secured data control standard should be in place to ensure only permitted data is shared with third parties and any other participants that have interests in the distribution network.
Smart Grids And Digital Technologies
The traditional systems in the grid cannot accommodate the new developments of distributed energy production; there needs to be a shift in the technology we use in the electrical network. DEPs have made the grid more congested and dynamic; new tech innovations should be in place.
For instance, the replacement of unidirectional meters in the traditional grid with smart and multi-directional meters for efficient data capturing. Also, responsive and automatic voltage control systems are crucial to have a stable network in spite of the various energy sources.
Other vital technologies include smart meter data management software, Forecast-as-a-Service software, active communication protocols, active grid setups like automatic on-load tap changers, static compensators, etc. These technologies will help DSOs to manage a smart grid actively.
Improved Communication With Consumers
The internet and new digital technologies have changed how we communicate. DSOs also need to respond to the latest trends of communication among the customers. Communication channels like mobile and web apps, social media need to be explored to interact with consumers effectively.
All these factors, combined, are a formidable platform for DSOs to effectively manage the grid and start to take advantage of the distributed energy source.
How DSOs can Take Advantage of Distributed Energy Sources.
DSOs can take advantage of the DEPs in the following ways:
1. Using DEPs For Peak Load Management/ Non-frequency Ancillary Services
DSOs have invested heavily and are still investing in grid facilities to manage peak load demands that occur in the network. However, the presence of DEPs can change DSOs’ reliance on these expensive and environmentally unfriendly methods.
The DSOs can use the distributed energy sources from prosumers as ancillary. This process will save the DSOs much money from investing in ancillary structures.
2. Acquire Grid Flexibility Services
The penetration of DEPs in the distribution network brings in various challenges. One of which is the congestion of the network, which may lead to many imbalances. Therefore, to take advantage of DEPs, the DSOs must be ready for such complexities by obtaining flexibility services.
The flexibility services could include voltage support and demand-side response; these will ensure that the network is stabilized amid the varying energy generation and consumption.
3. Provide Reactive Power Support to TSOs.
Due to the wide-spread of DEPs and smart inverters, DSO can harvest a significant amount of reactive power across these energy sources within their network. Reactive power is useful for voltage control and also a vital element for a stable grid. DSOs can offer the acquired KVars as a service to TSOs in locations that they are needed.
Another way DSOs can take advantage of DEPs is by acting as the central data hub for all the grid information.
DEPs have changed the outlook of the grid management, and DSOs must develop new models to manage the grid effectively, optimize their service to their consumers, and maintain a profitable business.
Finally, IT and digital technologies play a major driving force in this transition. Many smart systems and software like Hive Manager, are in place to optimize the operations involved in the distribution system. DSOs should explore these solutions as they perform their roles and make the grid reliable and safe for all.