Joël Jaton, chief technology officer, Depsys Electricity transmission/distribution, Energy networks, Strategy & management, Technology, Opinion

According to IEA’s Global Energy Review, renewables have so far been the energy source most resilient to Covid-19 lockdown measures, with renewable electricity being largely unaffected while demand has fallen for other uses of energy.

As Europe sets its sights on a sustainable recovery from Covid-19, we are seeing a steady rise in renewable energy on the grid.  This year saw a record coal-free period for the UK, with the country running for 67 days from 9 April- 16 June without using any coal-fired power, resulting in a soar of renewables on the grid. This increase in decentralised generation, along with the electrification of the heating sector, the integration of power storage and the rise of electromobility, will bring new challenges that low and medium-voltage network operators will have to deal with sooner or later, and digitalisation will be key to overcoming these challenges.

Digitalisation and automation of the distribution network are often seen as projects for the future, but with Covid-19 forcing the hand of innovation, network operators can immediately improve operational excellence through grid digitalisation today.

Save time, ensure quality and keep engineers safe with remote troubleshooting

Grid digitalisation helps reduce network downtime by identifying the location and type of fault quicker, shortening the response time. Optimised error identification not only increases network availability and security, but also reduces the need for manual inspections, contributing to the health and protection of field engineers at a time where social distancing remains critical.

A smarter grid empowers smarter decisions

Network reliability and stability can be improved with decentralised intelligence and real-time measurement of critical electrical parameters to deliver the visibility necessary for effective, informed day-to-day operational decision making.

Additionally, decentralised sensors strategically placed in the network can also be used to perform control functions and measurement tasks, including managing local networks. This function enables grid operators to sustain voltage quality via an automated approach to counteract adverse network conditions.

Monitor critical points in the network first

Grid measurement devices are ideal for monitoring critical areas in the network. By monitoring two or three points in the network, DSOs can expect response time to be reduced by 50 per cent after a fault is detected, ensuring a reliable service to critical industries including hospitals and manufacturing plants.

DSOs can ‘plug and play’ such devices in just a few minutes, strategically placing them near essential feeders, loads or on local transformers, allowing for maximum visibility and optimal control.

Make future proof decisions based on historical data

The real data transmitted from the sensors to the server is not only available for monitoring but is also assessed locally by the monitoring devices and then saved on the server, ready for analysis. Modular, software-based solutions make it easier to locate critical points in the network and provide information that can inform investment decisions on network expansion and maintenance. The real data analytics help when it comes to enquiries about network connections or reports allowing DSOs to give actionable insights and make intelligent, data-driven decisions.

Although the energy transition was already well underway, the Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtably accelerated the change.

The pandemic caused both short-term challenges and reaffirmed that the energy transition is necessary and unstoppable. In future if there is ever a second crisis, utilities will be handling it in the context of a more advanced energy transition with even more renewables on the grid.

It is vital that DSOs can learn from this pandemic, take steps to better understand their grid and digitalise their operations so they can guard against any future crises while playing an active role in enabling the world’s energy transition.

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