Adalberto García
President & CEO
AES México
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Expert Contributor

The Future Is Connected, Including Electric Grids

By Adalberto García | Wed, 07/13/2022 - 15:00

We are living in times where everything is data and metadata. This new reality occurs in a fast-paced world in which more and more information is created and received every day and power grids are not the exception. Smart grids are the combination of digital information and the electrical power grids. In accordance with the International Energy Agency (IEA), a smart grid is an electricity network that uses digital and other advanced technologies to monitor and manage the transport of electricity from all generation sources to meet the varying electricity demands of end users[1].

The massive amount of high dimensional data produced from the grid brings several challenges and opportunities[2]. The solution will require managing the data generated in the grid and turning it into useful information for decision-making. Therefore, the correct management of data generated from the grid is the key for an efficient functioning of a smart grid. But don’t let anyone fool you with the promise of sophisticated models. We haven’t found the right solution to collect big data in the smart grid in an efficient way to make better decisions, optimize resources, minimize costs, and invest in sustainable actions for the benefit of the society.

In this VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) environment, being able to gather and optimize information in real time, gives us stability and strengthens us as an industry. It prepares us for eventualities we sometimes cannot control and helps us make faster and more strategic decisions. It is no surprise that the biggest players in the energy market have used big data technologies to improve grid management. To illustrate the effort in numbers, it is expected that electricity grid investments reached about US$290 billion in 2021, recovering from 2020 and even surpassing the 2019 level of about US$270 billion1.

Here are some of the main benefits of investing into smart grids:

Timely maintenance: We constantly receive information in the network, which gives us the opportunity to prepare and prevent any possible failures or to get to them on time. This reduces blackouts and the costs these generate.

Better service: If there is an incident in the network, it can give us the exact location to fix it and can even do it automatically without a person behind the process.

24/7 optimized service: The equipment connected to the smart grids send real-time data, all day, every day. The control center can make better decisions that guarantee the best and safest energy supply.

Environmentally friendly: The smart grid helps integrate cleaner energies in a smoother way. The more we use these grids, the more we can distribute cleaner energy, needing less of the traditionally generated energy every day. We can even prevent energy waste by knowing the real use of energy for each consumer.

This last benefit is highly important considering the rising global concern for climate change effects. We can see this through all the changes we are introducing in our everyday lives and the decisions companies and governments are making in resource investment and production/consumption policymaking. For example, Thailand is aiming to have one-third of all the electrical use generated from renewable sources by 2036[3] and is using smart grids to achieve this. The US state of New York is aiming to achieve 79 percent of renewable energy by 2030 and a carbon-free electrical grid by 2040, through the “Future Grid Challenge” that uses the smart grid technology to make the transition. [4]

Without a doubt, the use of smart grids is important for every person on the planet, every industry and sector, every city and country, and most importantly, for the health and sustainability of our environment. Smart grids are the way to transition from a fossil-based to zero-carbon energy system, with data insights that provide a safe and reliable integration of different renewable sources into the generation mix, while maintaining a safe operation.

At AES, we clearly understand that grid reliability is not achievable without the complete transition to smart grids. We are proud to have installed in 2021 a pilot program in the Escandon community in El Salvador. It is a US$300,000 investment that will make it the first community in the country with a 100 percent smart grid installation. The goal is to provide a world-class service to 1.5 million clients in El Salvador.

For us at AES, it is fundamental to be partners in the development of grid resilience that provides constant energy access to communities, especially now that the weather is becoming more severe and less predictable every year. We are certain that this is the sustainable energy path of the future.

 

 

[1] IEA (2021), Smart Grids, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/smart-grids

[2] Zainab, A., Ghrayeb, A., Syed, D., Abu-Rub, H., Refaat, S. S., & Bouhali, O. (2021). Big Data Management in Smart Grids: Technologies and Challenges. IEEE Access, Access, IEEE9, 73046–73059. https://0-doi-org.biblioteca-ils.tec.mx/10.1109/ACCESS.2021.3080433

[3]IRENA (2017), Renewable Energy Outlook: Thailand, International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi https://www.irena.org/-/media/files/irena/agency/publication/2017/nov/irena_outlook_thailand_2017.pdf

[4] McClellan, P. (2020)Reviewing The Future Grid Challenge, NYLCV, https://nylcv.org/news/reviewing-the-future-grid-challenge/

 

Photo by:   Adalberto García