By David Hall, Vice President Energy, UK & Ireland at Schneider Electric
All over the world, the demand for energy is growing. Even in countries with a developed infrastructure, the traditional grid is starting to reach capacity. At the same time, the effects of climate change are driving a movement for the decarbonisation and dispersal of our energy sources. Balancing the needs of people, the economy and the environment has grown into a global challenge.
However, when we combine the right perspective with a smarter approach, it is possible to turn these challenges into opportunities.
Urbanisation: challenge and opportunity
The world’s population is booming. Today, we’ve hit a global population of 7 billion and expect an increase to 10 billion in the second part of this century and more and more of us are choosing to live in urban environments. In fact, the rate of urbanisation has increased from 29 per cent in 1950 up to 49 per cent today, and predictions show it will reach 67 per cent by 2050. This represents a potential of 2.5 billion additional urban dwellers by 2050. The scale of this migration has never been experienced in the history of mankind.
And every one of those people will need power in their homes and workplaces.
Managing an increased supply to growing urban areas requires grid operators to take a look at how their network is currently working and the options they have for smarter management in an evolving landscape. An example of this in action can be found in Gibraltar.
Due to a growing need from both domestic and commercial users for reliable electricity supply, the Gibraltar Electricity Authority was facing a challenge in how to manage and scale demand. With an ageing network and no electrical interconnection with the Spanish mainland, reliability of supply was becoming a critical issue.
The particular challenge faces by the Gibraltar Electricity Authority was that of inheriting disjointed, legacy systems and equipment. Most unplanned outages were due to generator faults, with a lesser but significant number due to cable faults. The existing SCADA and protection system did not pin-point exactly where in the network the fault had occurred and GEA were often advised by members of the public the precise location of the outages. The problems were so severe that outages in 2013 and 2014 had begun to have a significant impact on local commerce.
When the Government of Gibraltar procured a new dual fuel power station to replace the existing diesel power station, Gibraltar Electricity Authority chose to work with Schneider Electric to install an EcoStruxure Substation Operation digital control system. This allowed reliable and effective control and automation of their network with the flexibility to include new and retrofit applications. Such installations allow grids to deal with peak times and deliver some reduction in emissions. However, they are only one step in the journey towards a more sustainable energy generation programme.
How we manage energy (its generation, distribution, and consumption) will be a leading factor in finding solutions for these challenges, both for the environment and businesses . The world needs an integrated energy, efficiency and sustainability strategy. Fortunately, innovative technologies have emerged to offer an alternative solution to these challenges.
Preparing for a greener future
Renewable power has reached a tipping point, where it becomes the most competitive source of energy across the entire system. A new world of energy is emerging that is clean, competitive and electrified. The investment placed in grid transformation by government and businesses, therefore, is immeasurable in terms of the benefits it delivers in the long run.
On the demand side, digital technologies and the IoT are pervading every aspect of our daily lives and business operations, bringing new levels of productivity, flexibility and energy efficiency.
For example, cement manufacturer China National Building Materials Group Corporation has leveraged digital solutions in the form of control and energy management systems to improve performance while reducing its carbon footprint, a considerable undertaking for one of the most energy-intensive industries. But digitisation paid off: CNBM has cut its energy use, improving its overall energy efficiency by 10 per cent while significantly raising its productivity. Furthermore, the immediate benefits of the investment in their digital infrastructure meant that CNBM achieved ROI in under two years.
The transition to a clean and electrified energy system is accelerated by the digital technologies that make it possible. The transition to a new digital economy is, as well, accelerated by the emergence of a more competitive and sustainable energy system. Together, these elements are reshaping the global economy and opening new opportunities for better living.
The road forward
An integrated energy, efficiency and sustainability strategy is thus within reach. The emergence of a clean, electrified, ultra-efficient and digital energy system is achievable with today’s technologies. Indeed, its growing competitiveness and proven benefits make this transition almost an inevitability. This new paradigm can bring massive benefits to the challenges of rapid urbanisation.
The challenge for developed grid is clear. Achieve the functionality and flexibility required by growing energy demands by enhancing existing legacy systems. As these technologies continue to be improved, we will see further areas embracing the new challenges laid out by continuing urbanisation and the demand to ‘go green’. By getting the current grid ‘online’ through a programme of digitalisation and automation, supply becomes more proactive than reactive, lessening our reliance on peak time boosts from high-carbon generation sources.