Towards the Smart Grid: The Importance of Monitoring Systems
Monitoring and control systems in the electric industry have traditionally focused on power generation and distribution, having very few applications for the end user. Perhaps the only measurement device that has been relevant for electricity consumers is the power meter used to calculate their monthly bill, but even in that case the utility company is who takes care of the entire operation. Also, while this example is for electricity, similar analogies can be drawn for other sectors of the energy industry, such as natural gas distribution.
The rise of new technologies is transforming the power grid, creating challenges but also opportunities. Some trends that are completely changing how energy is produced and distributed are the following:
Renewable energy sources are being adopted at a larger scale than ever before, especially wind and solar power. Utility-scale projects based on these technologies have already reached grid parity with fossil fuels, while offering carbon-free operation. However, their dependence on weather conditions for power generation creates variability, and managing it has proven a challenge for utility companies.
Solar and wind power are notable for their flexibility of scale, also being competitive in smaller installations deployed by homes and businesses for self-consumption. For the first time, there is a large number of energy consumers who are also producers.
Internet connectivity is expanding to devices where it had no applications just a few years ago, including cars, lighting fixtures and even renewable energy systems. This concept is called the Internet of Things, and it could add value in the energy industry by making power grids more autonomous and efficient, offering economic benefits throughout the entire value chain.
Power generation is becoming more distributed, while small-scale energy storage is becoming commercially viable for the first time, setting the stage for a grid that is more flexible and connected. However, creating such a grid will require robust IT solutions to measure key variables and provide data aggregation and control services.
Areas of Opportunity for Energy Consumers
Electric utility customers are finding more applications for measurement and control systems, in great part due the rise of small-scale renewable energy and the increased adoption of energy efficiency measures; regardless of the type of measures deployed, there is a need for reliable methods to assess performance and return on investment. For example, an energy-efficient heat pump and a solar PV array are very different systems, but clients who deploy them often have the same goal: reducing energy expenses and, in many cases, reducing their carbon footprint. Both systems involve an initial investment and yearly energy savings, and measurements are the only way to validate performance.
The introduction of energy efficiency & renewable energy incentives by various governments throughout the world is further driving demand for monitoring solutions. Many of these incentive programs offer monetary benefits that are based on results achieved by customers, and these results can only be verified by precise historical measurements.
Although distributed energy storage has not yet achieved the commercial success of small-scale renewable energy, it will also bring new areas of application for monitoring and control. Clients who deploy both technologies will also require a control system with capabilities such as the following:
Deciding between consuming energy from the grid or previously stored energy.
For buildings with wind or solar power systems, deciding if the energy output should be used immediately, stored for later use, or exported to the grid.
Synchronizing with storage systems deployed by other energy consumers, in order to absorb surplus generation capacity and compensate for peaks in demand.
This is an example of how the Internet of Things is expanding to the energy industry. In order to extract more value from energy efficiency and renewable energy, electric power systems must be made smarter, transforming energy generation and storage systems into connected devices.
Areas of Opportunity in Large-Scale Generation and Distribution
Although monitoring systems have been deployed for decades in energy generation and distribution, there are new challenges and potential applications: solar and wind power have introduced variability in the supply side of the power grid, and balancing this with the normal peaks and lows in demand is a challenge that can only be addressed with information technologies.
Managing variability is expensive for utility companies, and this applies for both energy production and energy consumption:
Variable sources such as wind and solar power force utility companies to frequently adjust the output of sources they can control, typically hydroelectricity and natural gas.
Variable energy demand has the same effect, especially when peaks in supply coincide with low demand, or vice-versa.
In other words, electric grid operation can be described as a complex balancing act between energy generation and consumption, where energy storage can serve as a buffer to absorb sudden shifts in either supply or demand.
Connected devices offer opportunities for greater collaboration between utility companies and their customers, where there are economic benefits for both sides:
Utilities can be granted access to the storage systems used by their customers, and instruct them to absorb peaks in generation. These can happen at nighttime when demand is low, or during the day if weather conditions are extremely favorable for renewable sources, creating a surplus.
Clients can continue using their appliances normally. However, since their storage systems are charged with cheap surplus energy from the grid, their energy bills are reduced!
Utility companies also gain a profit, because they can reduce the amount of peaking power plants kept on standby – their role is taken over by distributed storage. These power plants are very expensive to own: they operate for only a few hours each day, but their capital expenditures are the same as those of plants that operate 24/7.
Of course, it’s impossible to operate a power grid with such a high degree of coordination unless a monitoring and control system running in the background, offering key services such as:
Data aggregation and analysis
Sending instructions to connected devices
The concept is already being tested by utility companies throughout the world.
In Europe, SSE Airtricity, Intel and Glen Dimplex are deploying a grid management solution based on distributed thermal storage. The project is called Real Value and currently spans Germany, Latvia & Ireland.
In USA, Pacific Gas & Electric is deploying a similar system based on smart lithium-ion batteries, in partnership with General Electric and SolarCity.
Importance of Having the Right Partner
In order to capitalize on the opportunities brought forth by connected devices and the Internet of Things, companies must seek a business partner who brings the necessary expertise and technology. Logic Energy offers a powerful platform that can be custom-tailored for the specific needs of each customer or application, and has been deployed successfully in all types of energy efficiency and renewable energy systems, including:
Solar photovoltaic systems
Smart electric heaters with thermal storage
Air-source and water-source heat pumps
The main value proposition of Logic Energy is offering a system that integrates equipment and IT services, shifting away from the traditional view where a monitoring system is just a device. Our systems are linked with a self-service platform where clients can configure their own web dashboards and specify exactly how results will be displayed. In addition, we offer cloud-based data storage and backup to safeguard our clients’ information, and compatibility with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.
In addition to providing reliable remote monitoring systems and cloud platform, Logic Energy offers accessibility, customization, and data security. Our solutions have been field-proven in applications outside of the energy industry as well, including construction, education and weather research.
Logic Energy products are CE and EMC tested, and manufactured in compliance with ISO 9001 standards.
Our IT solutions are hosted in a Type II SAS 70 data center, which offers bank-grade data security.
Our group of companies includes WindLogger, a provider of weather monitoring solutions for wind power and research applications, WINDCRANE, which focuses on heavy-duty applications in industries such as construction and transportation and WattyWatty, a full suite of energy and meteorological tools for the educational sector.