ICT enabling flexible energy grids

ICT enabling flexible energy grids

Quick evolution in ICT opens new possibilities to build flexible energy grids taking quality, security, and performance into account.

Energy systems are moving from centralized architectures and markets towards more flexible and distributed structures. The forthcoming ancillary services generated from opening global markets will set new types of requirements for monitoring and control of distributed generation, flexible demand, and storage. This poses new challenges also for communication systems, since the experienced communication quality, availability, response time, and security do not always meet the expectations. As a result, communication can be one of the key enablers in the transition towards flexible energy systems or a hindrance.

Remote operations and network automation are gradually expanded throughout the network involving a growing number of subsystems and components to be monitored in order to get precise and up-to-date status from all parts and layers of the distribution and transmission networks. Improved communication and security solutions are needed to increase controllability, support real-time markets, avoid congestions, and ensure high quality of distributed energy. As the energy flow becomes more and more bidirectional, the amount of required information also increases and ICT requirements become more versatile depending on offered ancillary services, end-users’ preferences, and market regulations. The deployed communication solutions need to fulfil all these requisites in a cost-effective and flexible way. We feel that ICT with short life cycles and quick evolution offers a new degree of flexibility and agility to energy systems to adapt to the changing requirements.

To understand better the role of ICTs for various TSO-DSO interaction options, different use cases have been developed to describe ancillary services for electricity network operations. Through the analysis of these use cases, we will first identify concrete ICT requirements and then elaborate communication architecture to support both technical and economic aspects of offered services. Our goal is to capture and prioritize communication requirements for today’s and tomorrow’s systems by utilizing project partners’ competence in both energy and telecom domains. We will break the relationships among involved stakeholders down to physical communication components and interfaces. The interactions between stakeholders are analysed to discover critical requirements for e.g. networking, security, latency, and data protocols. However, it is unlikely that one architecture design will fit in all proposed TSO-DSO coordination and ancillary service provision scenarios. Thereby, we study multiple architecture design alternatives, both existing and proposed ones from energy and communication domains, and select a set of them to be elaborated based on the discovered needs. We believe that the required security and communication systems do exist at the TSO-DSO level as a result of the R&D done by the TSOs and DSOs. New innovations and cost-effective solutions are especially needed in the edge of the network. DER operators, aggregators and owners do not have same financial assets to develop their communication solutions, which can compromise the flexibility, performance, and security of the whole system. Therefore, we need the capabilities to measure and validate the energy and communication quality in all parts of the network, not only at the TSO-DSO level.

The architecture design is done both top-down and bottom-up manner, so that we can differentiate common architectural components suited for all TSO-DSO coordination schemes and those that are highly TSO-DSO coordination scheme specific. From the energy system’s side, the increased interoperability between energy and communication domains has also forced to seek solutions that service both complex and global networks. With this objective in mind, the European approach promoted by the Smart Grid Coordination Group in response to Smart Grid Mandate M/490 has been considered[1]. M/490 requests CEN, CENELEC and ETSI to develop a framework aiming at smart grid interoperable solutions within the European Union and this framework defines high level requirements for ICT development within SmartNet.

One technology driver for flexibility in communications systems is wireless communication that enables end-users to have data access anywhere, anytime, with different types of terminals. In the future, 5G and IoT (Internet-of-Things) are anticipated to have a great impact on our daily communications, which is also expected to affect the way we interact with energy systems, by allowing more flexible access of consumers and prosumers to the energy markets. Although existing and forthcoming communication technologies open versatile possibilities, they need to be deployed with caution to ensure sufficient cost-efficiency, flexibility, and security. The second driver for improving flexibility and reducing complexity is the network virtualisation. The network function virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networks (SDN) concepts have been proposed by ETSI Industry Specification Group (ISG)[2]. This specification describes a high-level functional architectural framework and design philosophy of virtualised network functions and also the infrastructure to support it. The NFV/SDN concept is compelling to us, since it enables a transformation away from limited functions, tightly integrated and proprietary solutions toward a more streamlined and flexible service delivery chain. This rather new concept is also seen as a great asset for DER operators/aggregators and ancillary service providers to offer new services in a more cost-effective and flexible way than is done today.

The increased amount of information coming from different parts of the energy system is not free. Communications involves operation expenditures (OPEX) generated from running and maintaining services, and also capital expenditures (CAPEX) from investments and upgrades of HW and SW components. Therefore, in addition to performance and security evaluation, the cost benefit analysis is needed to ensure that the investments put on communications pay off, while taking into account the possibilities and threats originating from the short lifetime of ICT software and hardware components and relentless competition between different communication technologies, network vendors, and service providers. The important questions when exploiting communications technologies are: what we can and what we cannot do, how to measure experienced quality, how much we are willing to pay, and what can we expect from forthcoming technologies such as e.g. 5G MTC (Machine Type Communications) and IoT (Internet-of-Things).

There is not just one solution for all needs. The flexibility means that the end-user is able to choose among multiple options such as reliable fixed fibre connections; everywhere available mobile broadband services; and inexpensive, unlicensed and less trusted low power wide area technologies. ICT solutions will not dictate where the energy markets in Europe are heading, they are an excellent asset to enable flexible and cost-efficient data exchange between system components in the energy system. Without markets, there is no electricity; without electricity, there is no communications; and without communications there is no high quality energy available.

[1] http://www.cencenelec.eu/standards/Sectors/SustainableEnergy/SmartGrids/Pages/default.aspx

[2] http://www.etsi.org/technologies-clusters/technologies/nfv