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Comment: Renewable energy and the smart grid

Bastian Fischer, Oracle

In order to give renewable energy the best chance of success, we need to create grids that integrate clean energy sources while balancing power supply and demand.

The European Council’s recent Low Carbon 2050 Strategy calls for an 80-95 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2050.

To achieve this will require a massive uptake of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, and their subsequent integration into the energy grid.

To a certain extent this is happening already - In fact the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently found that almost half of electricity production installed globally between 2008 and 2009 was from renewable sources.

And integrating renewable energy sources into the power network will not just enable environmental benefits but commercial ones too. Renewable energy consultancy, Ecofys, recently predicted that if 100 per cent of our energy demands are met by renewable sources by 2050, this would cut demand by 15 per cent over the next four decades and deliver savings of nearly €4 trillion compared to a “business-as-usual” scenario . Additionally, the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) predicts that the number of people employed in the renewable energy sector in Europe could increase from 500,000 today to over six million in 2050 .

Energy infrastructure must become smart

But in order to optimise the value delivered by an increasing amount of renewable energy sources, it is important to ensure the required infrastructure is in place to draw value from the various energy sources.

This is where the implementation of smart grids - which are capable of integrating clean energy sources and balancing power supply and demand - is critical. Hans Martens, chief executive of the European Policy Centre, recently commented in the Oracle Future of Energy report that the smart grid is one of the most important measures that will help us achieve a low carbon economy and the 2050 target.

The smart grid has the ability to deliver reliable, renewable energy supplies to the grid, thereby satisfying the rising demand for electricity. Its interconnectivity capabilities mean the grids are able to accommodate changing and unpredictable weather patterns, and switch to solar and wind mode for a reliable energy flow.

Additionally, the smart grid can handle vast amounts of data thanks to real-time monitoring capability,as well as read consumer profiles, and manage the integration of renewable energy for periods of peak and low demand to help conserve energy further.

Smart grid adoption challenges

In order to push forward with smart grid adoption, it is critical that Governments and Utilities encourage the rollout of smart meters and the technologies needed to support it. The introduction of energy efficiency legislation accelerates the rollout of the smart grid.

Moreover, Governments and Utilities need to address consumer concern regarding smart meters, by educating the consumer so they understand the benefits; are better engaged; and therefore more likely to adopt the technology. By understanding smart technology, consumer fears surrounding security will be also be erased, as the protection of ICT platforms and integrity of all active smart grid components is a prerequisite of the platform.

Furthermore, Utility companies should look to implement meter data management and network intelligence solutions, which deliver deeper insight into the power grid - enabling Utilities to better manage the grid, and consumer. And innovative new applications and services, which rely on the smart grid, can help drive the rollout by creating consumer demand.

One such service being touted as a "killer app" is the electric vehicles (EV), as it has low carbon emitters and can be powered by renewable energy. Over the next four decades we will see a gradual migration away from conventionally fuelled cars to EVs, and we are already seeing legislation being introduced to encourage this. The German Government for example has allocated €1billion in research and development to achieve its goal of having one million EVs on its roads by 2020 .

Portugal’s MOBI-E project is another strong example of a national initiative, which looks to overcome the challenges presented by the smart grid’s uptake. The project saw the installation of 1,350 public charging stations across 25 Portuguese municipalities in 2011, and is the world’s first true universal and integrated platform for electric mobility.

The initiative encourages the uptake of EVs by helping users overcome fears surrounding “range anxiety” – this is due to the high number of charging stations in the main cities in Portugal, which means drivers no longer have to feel anxious about running out of battery charge before reaching a charging station. By using an e-mobility platform for MOBI-E, users can safely charge their vehicles away from their own home due to the enhanced security features at charging stations, which means personal information is better protected. As such, users will be more willing to use EVs if they are able to charge them in a safe and secure public space.

Today’s energy future

Renewable energy has a critical role to play in achieving the desired energy landscape of 2050.

The significant environmental and commercial benefits delivered by the adoption of clean energy are ones which Utilities and Governments simply cannot afford to miss out on. The capabilities delivered by the smart grid, regarding the use of renewable energy, are vital for the adoption of clean energy sources.

What’s more, by implementing a smart grid infrastructure, capable of effectively integrating and distributing various renewable energy sources and delivering improved energy efficiency and demand handling, we will go a long way to reducing carbon levels.

Bastian Fischer is vice president industry strategy at Oracle Utilities.


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