The carbon-neutral society of the future needs resilient electricity grids

The carbon-neutral society of the future needs resilient electricity grids

Rapid electrification of our society is one key element when decarbonizing energy systems and fighting climate change.

By necessity governmental targets for achieving carbon neutrality are ambitious, with some targets as soon as by 2035. This means that the change needs to happen very fast. Electrical energy will replace other forms of energy, since it is one of most flexible forms of energy that is possible to produce and distribute with a low carbon footprint. Electricity systems are becoming increasingly essential to the functioning of society, and as a result we need to redefine what system resilience means.

Written by Jani Valtari
Written by Jani Valtari

In a recent blog Anton Kotov summarized well what kind of new challenges increased grid complexity will bring to electricity distribution grids. The focus shift to renewable power sources and decentralized power generation requires us to develop models for integrating these into our power systems, with the need to develop energy storage system solutions and sophisticated forecasting.

As power generation becomes increasingly complex and less predictable, the grid must become more flexible. The required rate of change in the system will be high, yet at the same time, reliability requirements will increase. This will create a challenging combination – how does one simultaneously increase the rate of change and also improve robustness and reliability? The implication of this is that we will see new approaches when it comes to addressing ‘system resilience’, with digital technologies playing a key role.

Overall system resilience is a key factor in the electric grid, as it will also determine and limit the maximum speed of systemic change. New innovative technologies can be connected to the grid only if doing so does not reduce the resilience of this critical infrastructure. Traditionally resilience has been related to maintaining the power balance and protecting against network faults. During recent years cyber security has become increasingly important. But what we will start to see emerging, is the aspect of adaptability and updateability of the system.

DevOps (development plus operations) and lately DevSecOps (development plus security plus operations) have been used as terms for defining practices where software development is combined with IT operations. The purpose has been to push towards continuous delivery methodology where systems are simultaneously developed, updated, and operated. The practice started more from generic cloud services, but there is a high likelihood that the same practices will be needed also in a mission critical environment like the electricity grid.

Therefore, it is likely that we will see the emergence of new digital platforms that are operating in live mission critical environments, while being constantly updated. The needs are clear, and for the first time, we also start to have technologies available for realizing such platforms, including 5G, virtualized real-time computing, machine learning and AI. A key challenge will be the optimal integration of these technologies.

To address this ABB, in cooperation with Business Finland, have launched a world-class R&D program known as Green Electrification 2035 to develop platforms for optimal electricity generation and use in a carbon-neutral society. One key aspect of this program is to take a holistic approach to system resilience and its impact on digital platforms and the increasing number of new services.

Due to the expanding significance of grid resilience, it is not possible that any one company alone can address all these needs. Therefore, also as part of the Green Electrification 2035 program, a new innovation ecosystem will be launched, where ABB will encourage the companies involved to develop their solutions based on the program’s technology platforms. The vision is that this will enable new kinds of resilience services and operations, in dynamic electricity grids of the future.

About the author

Jani Valtari works as a Technology Center Manager for ABB Distribution Solutions in Vaasa, Finland. He has a Doctor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Tampere University of Technology. He has held several development, research and management positions in ABB, and within the research community in Finland. He has authored many conference papers and been inventor in international patents. His primary areas of interest are innovations in smart grids and new substation technologies.


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