by Georgina Dingley
Patterns of energy usage and generation are evolving at a much faster rate than ever before – putting distribution networks under greater pressure.
For example, in the UK and Europe, the oldest parts of the infrastructure were installed more than a century ago, and the majority of the assets have lain in the ground for over 40 years. In many countries, national infrastructures originally designed to transmit electricity out from large central generators are struggling to deal with increasing generation from wind turbines and solar panels at the periphery. At the same time, initiatives to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles and heat pumps are likely to place additional strain on already overloaded networks. The low- and medium-voltage networks are predicted to bear the brunt of this additional strain, and these are traditionally unmonitored.
Despite all these challenges, distribution network operators (DNOs) and system operators (DSOs) still face the same obligations: to provide a reliable supply of electricity at the correct voltage for every customer within their service area, at all times. Even brief lapses in quality or reliability can lead to regulatory penalties, so letting high standards slip is not an option.
Fortunately, the technology is now available to provide solutions for most of these problems. Smarter fuses, switches, voltage regulators and other equipment can be installed to manage the load more efficiently and help the network cope more easily with local generation. We’re also seeing new battery technologies that can provide large-scale storage, acting as an emergency backup when networks are overloaded or faults occur.
But the real challenge for distribution businesses is to understand which parts of the low- and medium-voltage infrastructure are under greatest stress, and where deploying these new technologies will deliver the biggest benefits. If loading and connectivity information is inaccurate or incomplete, or if network operational and event data can’t be centralised and analysed efficiently, it may be impossible (or prohibitively time-consuming) to diagnose where the problems lie and avoid failures.
This is where a new approach to network management software can really help. As the smart metering rollout begins to gather pace and monitoring of the low- and medium-voltage network becomes the norm, a wealth of new data will become available to help DNOs and DSOs identify issues and manage network stress-levels more efficiently. The ability to gather, verify, integrate and analyse this data is key to unlocking its value – and requires a software landscape that is capable of integrating with a broad range of systems and processing huge volumes of data.
In addition to the right software, distribution companies need forward-thinking technology partners to help them adapt to technology, market and regulatory developments. At AMT-SYBEX, we focus on developing solutions that will be flexible for the future, and we’re involved in some of the most innovative projects in the industry, such as UK Power Network’s Smarter Network Storage initiative.
Distribution networks themselves may be outdated, inflexible and invisible, but network management doesn’t have to be. With the right software and the right partners, distribution companies can keep ahead of the game and in control of their networks.