More than nine in 10 executives believe that climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions has been a contributing factor to increased extreme weather events that their electricity networks have experienced over the past 10 years.
This is according to new research from Accenture that also indicates that 90 per cent of executives believe an expected rise in severe weather poses an increased financial risk to their grid businesses.
The study — the sixth edition of Accenture’s Digitally Enabled Grid research — is based on a survey of more than 200 electric utility executives in 28 countries on five continents. Other key findings include:
- Almost three-quarters of survey respondents said that extreme weather events represent a significant challenge to network operations and safety.
- 92 Per cent said they expect severe weather to increase in the next 10 years.
- 88 Per cent said maintaining network resilience to extreme weather will result in significant increases in network prices for customers.
- At the same time, only one-quarter (24 per cent) believe that their businesses are very well prepared to deal with the impact of extreme weather, with one in 12 (8 per cent) reporting being poorly prepared.
“With various parts of the world affected by droughts, wildfires, and flooding in addition to the U.S. hurricane season just around the corner, climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and impacting the electricity grid,” said Stephanie Jamison, a global industry managing director who leads Accenture’s Utilities business.
“Greater system flexibility, delivered through digital and emerging technologies, will be critical to optimizing grid resilience in a cost-effective and timely manner. For example, active management of available network redundancy, distributed generation and energy storage can help maintain power delivery during severe weather events and speed service restoration after network failures.”Stephanie Jamison, Accenture Utilities
Study findings indicate that more than nine in 10 respondents believe that building greater adaptability into the network — such as network reconfiguration, embedded storage, redundancy and voltage management — over the next 10 years will be critical to increasing overall resilience. A further, 93 per cent see system flexibility as the most cost-effective approach to deliver long-term resilience.
In fact, nearly the same number of executives (93 per cent) said that they are testing innovative solutions for grid resilience, including advanced protection systems, vehicle-to-grid technology, automated self-healing grids and drone inspections of damage factors.
Main challenges identified in the research:
Utility executives said their top-ranked weather concerns for network resilience include very high winds, flooding and winter ice and snowstorms.
Amol Sabnis, a managing director who leads Accenture’s transmission and distribution business, said, “In the long-term, utilities can promote greater resilience by linking the benefits of major investments to grid-modernization strategies to convince policymakers, customers and other stakeholders of these benefits.”
But COVID-19 is increasing the urgency to address resilience, he added, noting, “It is raising new questions such as, in the event of massive catastrophe how do we support the repair crews, feeding and sheltering them while meeting COVID-19 safety needs? What are the best technologies to protect employees’ health on the job, such as temperature scanning, social distancing and air monitoring?”
“The answers will require the industry fully teaming up, but with people and technology, we will get there,” Sabnis added.
What is power grid flexibility?
Electrical grid flexibility is the ability to scale the supply of electricity by increasing or decreasing the number of generators serving the grid. Flexibility is critical in today’s current environment of fluctuating demand and transformation to variable energy sources such as wind and solar.
Trends driving grid flexibility include:
- Highly changeable electrical demand driven by the coronavirus pandemic. With lockdown and quarantine forcing businesses to operate remotely, the morning routine has changed. Engineers need to completely change usage pattern models to meet contemporary needs.
- Major shifts in demand can occur as heavy industry returns to or stops production suddenly, adding to grid instability.
- The rapid reduction in hydrocarbon generation and uptake of solar, driven largely by the fact that solar input cannot easily be stopped, means that grids are more weather sensitive, variable and lack the impetus of thermo generation.
- Further complicating the situation is over-supply of rooftop solar has the potential to cause rolling blackouts or even crash the grid entirely.
- the volume of less predictable or even weather dependent generation becomes larger due to the increasing share of renewable energy sources like solar and wind.
How to achieve a more flexible grid
Power grid flexibility is a growing concern in the world of high voltage power networks. The rate of change is unprecedented, as technology, climate change and COVID-19 present a perfect storm that threatens continuity across the globe.
Experts recommend a two pronged approach – the first is a robust mid term strategy that focuses on team flexibility and the ability to manage contingencies effectively. The second looks longer term, incorporating flexibility into strategies that forecast and adapt three years in advance.
Embracing new technologies
Transformation of the power grid to reduce emissions will continue. To meet targets, the monitoring and management of the grid must transform with it. For those tasked with managing and developing power grids, greater insight and real time visibility are critical.
VECTO System solves the problem of grid flexibility by taking a completely novel approach to the visibility problem. Developed in Africa to overcome the challenges of cost and aging infrastructure, VECTO System installs an edge computing device at every node along the grid network. The devices are GPS synchronised to work in perfect harmony, delivering the full picture to engineers and grid managers in real time.
Data is displayed on VECTO System’s state-of-the-art data visualisation platform, which is capable of providing key personnel with notifications the moment problems arise, and the ability to manage the grid remotely from any smart device.
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