Over time, electricity has increasingly become an intricate part of our existence. The dependence on electricity is steadily growing by leaps and bounds due to the convenience it brings. However, as we utilise it, there is a need to address the complications that arise from managing multiple sources, battling carbon emissions, and ensuring that enough is generated to meet the increasing demand on the electric grid. To that effect, you might wonder, what then is an electric grid? Why does it matter when we talk about access to power?
What is an Electricity Grid?
An electricity grid is an infrastructure created to transmit electricity from producers to consumers. The transmission model starts from generation to distribution, where it is finally received by consumers (end users). With the introduction of the internet, many processes have become more automated over the years. Lately, electric utilities are latching on to automation faster than ever. We call the adaptation of electric grids to automation “the evolution of smart grids.” What then is a smart grid? What is entailed for a grid to be considered “smart”?
What is a Smart Grid?
A smart grid is a complex interconnected system that enhances real-time interaction between electric utilities and customers. This interaction provides opportunities for continuous improvement, data exchange, management of resources, waste reduction and demand-side management, to name a few. In many developed countries, the introduction of smart grids has provided power producers with the ability to manage resources effectively due to the real-time knowledge of load demand on the grid at every given point in time. It has provided avenues for:
1. The integration of multiple generation sources: when exploring the smart grid’s capabilities, it is essential to identify the relationship with the grid at every stage. The two-way information flows from consumers to producers and vice-versa, which helps with the management of resources. In this context, generation refers to every electricity source that is connected or interconnected to the grid. The sources could be hydro, solar, thermal etc.
2. Enhancing the implementation of centralised energy management systems for adequate load monitoring: An essential part of effectively managing electrical resources, which are limited compared to the needs, is understanding the different periods of demand – high and low demand periods. Understanding these cycles help with load management, power scheduling and real-time power profiling.
Load management is the ability to manage the load requirements on the grid at any given time to ensure that the grid is not overburdened or experiencing waste due to unutilised electrical energy during periods of low demand. The generation companies can ramp up and reduce power production to meet the load requirements at any time. Transmission companies can adjust based on the required demand in real-time instead of the manual process associated with the analogue meters.
Power scheduling could be beneficial to know periods of outages due to certain demands on the grid. This sophistication level allows distribution companies to relay periods of expected power outages, enabling consumers to incorporate outage periods into their daily planning. Power scheduling could be beneficial in situations where the demand is higher than the available supply.
Real-time power profiling is the ability to depict a facility’s electricity interaction. The interaction may be based on continuous data collection by identifying their peak & off-peak periods, average daily consumption, maximum daily demand etc.
Advanced metering gives consumers the ability to monitor their consumption and predict their electricity costs instead of waiting for unreliable estimated bills. This metering system can be monitored through interconnected apps that show consumption in real-time with actual numbers so that customers can understand their energy use better. This visibility ensures that all value chain participants are more accountable because the data speaks for itself.
How Does a Smart Grid Operate?
When thinking of the smart grid, it helps to visualise an assistant who knows what you need at any given point in time. The smart grid uses data to understand the producers’ commitment, consumers need and strives to ensure that all needs are met promptly.
At the core of its operations is smart meters. Smart meters are installed in the facilities of end-users to monitor their energy consumption. The data collected from multiple smart meters are then aggregated to create patterns, which are converted to signals on either end of the grid.
For example, Mr Abc recently had a smart meter installed in his home. This smart meter started relaying information based on his patterns. He typically goes to work at 6 am to beat traffic, so from 6 am to 6 pm, the only appliances running in his home are the basics like a refrigerator. After he gets home from work, the load is increased to include a TV, lights, appliances, and plug loads. The smart meter will relay this information on Mr Abc’s consumption profile, informing how much power is required from the generation plants to cater to his needs. If he has a pattern switch that becomes an outlier in his profile, the grid needs to appropriately adjust to meet that need so that information is relayed immediately.
If his consumption drops, the supplied power is reduced to avoid waste, and if it increases, there is a snowball effect that might cause generation to be ramped up. This way, the generation companies can adjust loads based on the aggregated smart meter data. The adjusted generation loads will be managed using computerised systems on the back end. Transmission can be adjusted; transformers get signalled in real-time and distribution managed based on real-time consumer needs. As those needs fluctuate, distribution is adjusted in real-time. Also, Mr Abc can monitor his usage in real-time using an app that is also supplied with information. He may either receive data immediately or after a 15-minute lag, depending on the speed of the information relay.
Overall, this highly integrated process provides visibility and accountability on the value chain while highlighting ways to increase efficiency. The data can be manipulated in so many ways to determine the best combinations for the grid.
A Nigerian Smart Grid?
The electric grid is a combination of generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity from the producers/utilities to the consumers/end users. To better incorporate smart grid technologies into the Nigerian grid, all contributing aspects must be analysed to identify areas of integration and potential benefits. The major segments include:
• Generation companies – GenCos
• Transmission Company – TCN
• Distribution Companies – DisCos
To fully harness the smart grid’s power in ensuring adequate power distribution, data mining and feedback communication, all aspects of the grid need to be integrated.
Nigeria is on her way to grid smartness. The current installation of prepaid meters can aid the transition to smart grids through data analytics in the following ways:
• Developing load profiles for different regions. Utilising the load data, utility companies can determine which generation sources will adequately meet the needs of the regions. If there are deficits, they can start exploring ways to leverage distributed generation alternatives and Design programs for grid management.
• Creating a generation resource management plan to meet demand.
• Transitioning to interval data for more targeted scheduling and profiling.
In conclusion, Nigeria’s grid can become smart; however, the process will have to be phased over time to ensure adaptation and customer awareness. An important aspect in making the transition is the increased emphasis on data mining for the current grid’s operation. Finally, more fluid technology is needed to aid communication between GenCos, TCN, DisCos and consumers. The beauty of a smart grid is its ability to communicate.