Feature Report: Energy and Digital Technology

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Digital Technology Makes a Strong Entry in Power Grids

The rapid development of renewable energies, particularly locally distributed photovoltaic solar energy, and the introduction of competition in newly opened energy markets, have created a wide range of possibilities for the deployment of digital solutions. This has resulted in a shift – for the moment confined to industrialized markets – in the relationship between electricity producers and consumers.

Digital modeling of industrial facilities is profoundly changing working conditions and enabling remote operation. © THINKSTOCK

The primary innovation offered by digital technologies is to strengthen the concept of customized powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... grid services that can collect information about the energy habits of users, or even allow consumers to contribute to the grid. This level of sophistication is unthinkable in centralized, single direction grids, and is only made possible by data management.

A whole series of new disciplines has grown up around big data management, and traditional electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... providers have to adapt to these changes. A good example is German company E-On, which sold its long-standing electricity production business to focus on renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... sources and service management. Major groups like Google that specialize in managing digital platforms have entered the market along with host of smaller, innovative companies.

Relationships between suppliers and consumers can be described in three stages:

1. Changes in the user profile

The wealth of digital data in companies and the growing number of connected household objects such as thermostats and smart meters will allow industrial or household energy profiles to be analyzed individually. This is what is known as energy data management.

The aim is to offer customers advice to help them adapt their consumption habits and reduce their energy bills. According to a Siemens study, this energy analysis can reduce a company’s energy costs by more than 5% over a year1.

For customers who want to produce their own energy by installing solar panels, sophisticated services mean the design of the installation can be adjusted in line with use. Google, for example, is testing a method for rooftop systems that combines data from a wide variety of sources2, including images from its aerial imagery data base and 3D roof models, with information about shade from surrounding buildings, the position of the sun throughout the year, cloud cover and temperatures, etc., to remotely calculate the performance of a solar power installation, adapted to the size of the family.

Effective management of energy data allows electricity customers to significantly reduce their consumption. 

2. Managing production and consumption

While managing millions of sites, digital platforms also allow customers to be individualized. Using a variety of techniques, these platforms can aggregate masses of data concerning production and consumption. This wealth of data facilitates load shedding, an operation that is becoming increasingly essential with the rise of renewable energy sources. Load shedding involves using an external stimulus to temporarily reduce the physical consumption of a given site or group of users in order to correct an imbalance in supply and demand at peak periods. Automatically turning off household heating for a 15 to 30 minute period will not affect comfort and temporarily suspending an industrial process will have a limited effect if it is correctly anticipated. Load shedding has spawned aggregators, a new player that pools recovered capacity to sell on a “capacity market”.

This ability to intervene remotely is essential when users produce their own photovoltaic electricity. As local production varies depending on the time and weather, and rarely corresponds to periods of consumption, electricity often needs to be stored locally using a battery system, exported when there is a surplus and imported to top up production. For this, data exchanges are required, both within a site and between the site and the outside world. 

3. Customer groupings

The use of digital platforms can encourage users to produce or buy electricity in new ways, in a bid to secure the best price. There are many ways to do this.

In the United States and some European countries, communal solar plants are being developed. Communities can invest in them either by buying panels or by buying kilowatt-hours.

In France, one particular initiative has been hugely successful. In summer 2015, the Familles de France association organized a bulk purchase of electricity, after launching a tender to select a provider. Thanks to the Internet, more than 66,000 people3 took part.

 

 

Sources :

(1) SIA-Partners

(2) Google

(3) Familles de France