Smart grid technology, the way forward | Sunday Observer

Smart grid technology, the way forward

Smart grid technologies support low carbon energy production that is sustainable, reliable, secure and affordable. The technological transformation is taking place from classical to current power systems and from current systems to the smart grid, Chair of Electrical Power Systems, University of Melbourne, Pierluigi Mancarella said.

Emphasising that we can deliver a sustainable energy system technology-wise, he said that it is, however, primarily a socio-economic question and not engineering related.

“We have the choice of going for business as usual and keep on investing in wire technology or alternatively, we can invest in innovative more intelligent operation practices which are smarter infrastructure,” he said at a workshop on smart grid technologies and implications for inclusive development organised by the Asian Development Bank in collaboration with the Melbourne School of Engineering in Galle recently.

Engineering models often fail to properly capture socio-economic aspects and electricity markets have mostly failed to involve consumers. Renewables may severely affect consumers, particularly in terms of affordability of some categories in the presence of weak regulation. There are challenges and risks for social development and inclusiveness, he said.

“We need to make assumptions in smart grid technology such as consumer willingness to pay, low level of consumer engagement, consumer willingness to change behaviour patterns, utilities willingness to engage with consumers, consumers loss of control, loss of privacy and uneven distribution of benefits due to lack of information technology and literacy,” he said.

New distributed technologies such as in storage demand response and concepts such as microgrids, community energy systems involve more and more consumers. As new actors, namely prosumers are emerging, great benefits can be achieved and new opportunities also emerge.

Stressing the benefits, he said that improving access and household electrification rates, enhance environmental sustainability, more control, lower electricity bills and increased resilience and therefore, safety due to reduction of hazard exposure and fewer emergency workers.

Elaborating on the opportunities, Mancarella said that solving the access problem is the key. There will also be greater empowerment of end-user households and communities as decentralisation provides greater opportunities for diversity and inclusiveness in management and participation, employment generation, income generation through energy sales and reduce vulnerability of energy poor which is pre-paid and energy displays. We should move towards whole system approach to face future energy challenges, he said.

“There are many challenges in energy system transition to address the issues. We need to re-think engineering modeling as to incorporate socio-economic aspects. However, the smart grid presents huge social opportunities, not only risks and challenges,” he said.