Friday, December 28, 2012

IEEE Survey Report Illuminates Smart Grid Future by Andres Carvallo

A comprehensive polling of industry leaders around the world finds that North America leads in energy storage, while Europe is ahead in distributed generation and microgrids. Energy management systems, distributed management systems and communications technologies will be critical to full realization of all the anticipated smart grid benefits.

A new report from Zpryme, commissioned by IEEE and available at the IEEE smart grid website, details how energy storage, distributed generation and microgrid technologies stand to evolve given the rapid deployment of the smart grid across the globe over the next five years. The report is based on a survey done in September 2012 of 460 smart grid executives around the world, almost all of them highly educated. Two thirds of them said they believe energy storage and distributed generation will be very important to the future development of the smart grid, and half thought microgrid development will be very important.

Top-rated benefits of energy storage include provision of supplemental power to meet peak demand, improvement of power system reliability and reduction of energy costs. Yet, on a somewhat skeptical note, the report says, “If the cost of grid-scale storage technologies does not significant decrease over the next five years, the market will not realize its full potential.” Specifically, "Industry experts from the U.S. Department of Energy, EPRI and KEMA estimate that costs must decrease by at least 50 percent relative to today’s costs in order for energy storage technologies to realize mainstream adoption. If the costs do not significantly decrease, utilities will continue to rely upon gas-fired turbines (peaker plants) for lead shifting and renewable integration.”

The report finds that Europe is the global leader in adopting and utilizing distributed generation and microgrids, while North America is prominent in energy storage technology. The report says that these regions stand to “take the lead when it comes to developing an deploying next-generation distributed energy systems.” But Japan, South Korea and China “will also continue to make strong investments in energy storage as these countries are determined to lead the world when it comes to clean technologies,” the report says.

Energy management systems, distributed management systems and communications technologies are identified in the report as the critical enabling technologies for energy storage, distributed generation and microgrids, as well as advanced grid services such as net metering, load aggregation and real-time energy monitoring that in many cases will be delivered in the cloud.

Key interrelated themes emerge from the research behind the report, such as the necessity of customer demand to drive the market for the three technologies and, in turn, the need for customer feedback to infuse their R&D strategies. The report illuminates how energy storage, distributed generation and microgrid technologies can support important new revenue streams for manufacturers, utilities, end users and third-party providers alike, spurring new global markets for software and systems that integrate these technologies into modern and future energy systems.

Among the report’s finding are the following highlights:

- Electricity demand of the future will be met with distributed-energy systems.
- Customer demand—not further regulation, policies or subsidies—must drive the viability of the market for the three technology areas of focus in the report (energy storage, distributed generation and microgrids).

- Market-driven innovation will lead the transition to a high-growth phase for the three technology areas, so manufacturers must, in turn, “closely integrate customer feedback into their R&D (research and development) roadmaps.”

- Better coordination on standards, R&D and funding is required to drive down costs and advance energy storage, distributed generation and microgrid technologies.
Digitized or connected energy systems will be necessary to support advanced smart-grid functionality and distributed energy systems.

- The three technology areas offer opportunities for utilities, end users and third-party providers to create new revenue streams.

- One of the major challenges to advancing deployment of energy storage, distributed generation and microgrids remains the need for more driving of costs down.

The Zpryme report indicates that importance of all three technology areas is coming into clearer focus with rising global interest in more efficiently managing energy consumption, heightening electricity demand and increasing awareness of the cost of service interruptions. Ultimately, the report states, there is strong growth potential for all three technologies.

In conclusion, to summarize the most important overarching findings:

1- Microgrids, distributed generation and especially grid-level energy storage still need external private- and public-sector funding for both R&D and projects/pilots. The benefits would include more cost-effective solutions, better businesses cases for the technologies and development of best practices with regard to technology installation, application and optimization.

2 - The most important enabling technologies for distributed generation, microgrids and energy storage stand to be energy management systems, distributed management systems and communications technologies. Future distributed energy systems must be able to interact across both centralized and decentralized electrical networks, supporting advanced grid services (net metering, load aggregation and real-time energy monitoring, for example) that often will be delivered in the cloud.

3 - And further, network-layer change stresses investment in a future-proof architecture and communications network that will be able to accomplish not only the defined goals of the present and near-term future, but also the undefined but likely expansive needs of a dynamic digital future, replete with emerging innovative applications and equipment. A well-informed design and resilient integrated IP network foundation puts the utility in a position of strength, able to choose from best-of-breed solutions as they emerge, adapting the network to new purposes and functionality, consistently driving costs out by leveraging information in new ways.

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