New power grids or smarter grids? Finding hidden spare capacity could unlock the bottlenecks to net zero

4 mins read

Our power grids are currently dealing with a great storm brought on by climate change as well as an influx of new electrical appliances and alternative energy sources that could result in an unheard-of capacity shortage. According to recent reports, net zero runs the risk of encountering a bottleneck in the electrical grid that is inadequate to support the extensive integration of clean technologies that EU or UK targets call for. Alternative energy sources are kept off the grid due to a lack of capacity, which leads to localized congestion and higher electricity costs for consumers.

System capacity is being squeezed by climate change as a result of past summer’s heatwaves, which increased demand for air conditioning while raising aloft powerline temperatures and lowering their safe current-carrying capacity.

However, the climate might even hold the solution’s key. Smart grids could accurately forecast their real maximum capacity in all weathers, carry more recent during cooler conditions, and anticipate and adapt to changing climatic conditions. This would properly increase the capacity of current networks to support the energy transition while reducing the need for pricey grid build-outs.

The impending net zero bottleneck

On our filled power grids in London, the East and Southeast of the UK only, 4.5 million EVs and 400,000 heat pumps will soon be competing for space. The pattern is repeated throughout the EU, where by 2030, 600 GW of renewable energy and 70 million electric vehicles will be connected to power grids. At a time when severe weather events like heatwaves are driving up demand and putting strain on the grid, this would severely overtax the existing grid infrastructure. In the previous three years, the UK exclusively spent £2.2 billion to manage grid congestion. Due to capacity issues, significant amounts of fresh energy resources that are crucial to achieving our gross zero targets are being restricted or snagged in protracted connection lines.

Eurelectric has issued a warning that in order to support the enormous load of millions of new electronic appliances and renewable energy sources, Europe’s sagging, congested grids must presently undergo significant upgrades and expansion. Some contend that due to anticipated price increases for aluminum and manufacturing bottlenecks, we would need to construct enough fresh cables to reach the Sun by 2050. Conflicts with locals in the way of organized power lines may result from the scale and speed of construction that are anticipated, as well as a significant reduction in economic reviews and community consultation. In the EU only, the expected grid expansion could cost up to €80 billion annually. Importantly, when the majority of the benefits go to society more than utilities, there is little commercial benefit for operators to spend a lot of money building out grids to integrate more renewables.

power grids throughout the year

Our grids are being overburdened by climate change and the related energy transition, but the climate even holds the key to a possible cost-effective solution. Now, a lot of network operators base their dynamic assumptions on hazy estimates or data, like weather forecasts with significant room for error, regarding the maximum protected current carrying capacity of overhead power lines. Operators can take advantage of weather conditions to increase network capacity by using Dynamic Line Rating ( DLR ) to precisely detect and predict current carrying capacity without overheating the network. For instance, higher wind speeds cool power lines and reduce sag, allowing them to carry more latest without going over safe temperature limits.

The second multi-sensor grid monitoring systems in the world were recently installed on transmission lines by a DLR pilot in Israel to look for opportunities for additional capacity. With real-time monitoring of more than 60 electric, climate, and physical parameters affecting the ampacity from windspeed to cable sag and current, the grid monitoring technology can measure the actual temperature of the line. The sensors are strategically placed across vulnerable areas like valleys that are prone to shifting windspeeds and areas that receive the most sunlight. With regular present and voltage, only one set of sensors could properly predict ampacity along a 50 km power line.

power grids, net zero

The pilot demonstrated how the technology could use meteorological data to project longer-term grid capacity while exactly predicting the line’s present carrying capacity for up to 3 hours in advance. It showed that power lines could be loaded on average more than they are now, which helped free up a ton of excess capacity from current networks to handle demand spikes from EVs, heat pumps, and heatwave-related phenomena. In the absence of precise grid temperature data, utilities presently set exceedingly careful capacity limits, but the pilot demonstrated that smarter data would enable these limits to be considerably exceeded without endangering safety.

Operators could use the technology to support heavier loads from EVs, heat pumps, and other appliances with existing infrastructure and integrate more clean energy sources on transmission lines. By reducing congestion, alternative energy sources like EV fast chargers on distribution networks could be avoided without needlessly being cut off. Additionally, unwanted grid upgrades and expansions could be avoided.

Additionally, utilities could simulate where and how upgrades might increase capacity, leading to smarter and more economical network improvements. This could assist in determining cost-effective upgrades like the replacement of current-carrying conductors with fresh materials on existing lines. Operators may be able to postpone investments in fresh grid capacity by up to five years thanks to the combined capacity that can be unlocked and shared across horizontal lines.

To prevent outages or capacity squeezes, operators may be able to share energy from faulty lines with horizontal lines by identifying opportunities to increase capacity. To find the best ways to maximize capacity using existing lines, the grid-monitoring system can also provide load balancing recommendations and actually model new load conditions. Unlocking additional capacity would facilitate the integration of cleaner energy into grids and prevent the use of unclean power sources in the event of demand spikes.

The information can be used to model “what if?” A “network for all seasons” is created by using scenarios to forecast the temperature and, consequently, the correct capacity of any part of the network across all weather conditions or times of day. The technology could help better shield grids from the effects of climate change, such as heatwaves, by effectively predicting the performance of power lines under extreme weather conditions. In similar future scenarios, machine learning systems that have been trained on earlier weather or climate conditions can also predict how grids might increase capacity on their own. Power grids that learn on their own are being developed by technology and are getting smarter with each weather event.

Smart, adaptable, and effective grids that can quickly adjust to a more variable operating environment will be needed to meet the demands of the energy transition and climate change. The key to planning smarter infrastructure improvements and more climate-resilient networks while maximizing capacity from existing grids is moreover better understanding our climate and environment.

Matthew Boyle

Matthew Boyle is a distinguished Smart City Consultant, renowned for his expertise in IoT (Internet of Things) and cutting-edge urban technology solutions. With a deep understanding of Smart City initiatives, Matthew excels in leveraging IoT innovations to transform urban landscapes into efficient, sustainable, and connected environments. His strategic insights and hands-on experience in urban planning, data analytics, and IoT implementation make him a trusted expert in the field. Matthew Boyle is your go-to consultant for navigating the complex world of Smart Cities, ensuring seamless integration of IoT technologies, and unlocking the potential of data-driven urban solutions. With his guidance, your city can thrive in the digital age, enhancing quality of life and fostering a sustainable future.

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