Matej Grdadolnik, Siemens: We Don’t Have to Worry About Blackouts...
Date: October 29th 2020
Author: Alenka Lena Klopčič
We don’t have to worry about blackouts if we can balance and stabilise power grids in the dynamic environment with suitable technology, believes Matej Grdadolnik, who is responsible for energy management in Siemens Slovenia and who spoke to Energetika.NET on adapting the energy industry to new global trends and requirements. “The energy landscape is facing changing market requirements, social awareness of energy and systems, rapidly changing technology and climate change. The energy system is increasingly complicated due to distributed energy sources with a multidirectional power flow, distributed generation and dispersed consumption,” says Grdadolnik, who likes to substantiate what he says with practical examples and remains realistic also about the EUR 750 billion budget foreseen by the EU to eliminate direct damage due to the coronavirus pandemic and start off sustainable recovery.“The integral component of grids are substations. They connect grids with various voltages, and their control and coordination functions are crucial for the stability of the entire system. That is why they are deemed the heart of a grid. Their digitalisation is a decisive step towards the successful transformation of energy systems. As they are easily accessible, they can bring cost-effectiveness and sustainability to energy supply,” is what you said in a feature not long ago. How quick is the said transformation of energy systems and what is the pace of Siemens’ development in the digitalisation of substations?
For the future on this planet to be greener, we need a decarbonised energy system which can be established by decentralising and digitalising the energy system, and digital substations are only a part of that. All renewable energy sources will be included in the grid as part of distribution, but to manage the grid, we need digitalisation. The transition from the unidirectional energy flow model of the operator to consumers’ bidirectional flow system, in which energy from renewable sources, storage facilities is actually traded back into the grid, is here. A great example is Siemens’ virtual power plant in Finland (Sello – a shopping centre (MORE)), with which the shopping centre strives for energy efficiency and a low carbon footprint, and is also active in the electricity market. The virtual power plant optimises energy consumption and reduces the load on the distribution network.
Referring to your question on digital substations, their task is to successfully balance complex power flows (loads on the system), while ensuring suitable capacity and reliability.
“Medium and low voltage power grids must manage changes taking places due to the increasing integration of renewable energy sources and the growing e-mobility,” you said in that feature. We could probably add the growing number of heat pumps in the system. Do you think that the current trend in changes is manageable or should we worry about blackouts?
The energy landscape is facing changing market requirements, social awareness of energy and systems, rapidly changing technology and climate change. The energy system is increasingly complicated due to distributed energy sources with a multidirectional power flow, distributed generation and dispersed consumption. We need reliability and stability, which is today supported by digitalisation. The smart grid in New Brunswick, Canada (MORE), is a pilot project of Siemens and NB Power. They have established a decentralised energy management system (EnergyIP DEMS), a technology that can send commands to the devices of NB Power’s customers and help to manage flows and peaks in the power grid. Originally, DEMS was tested with smart thermostats, water heaters, heat pumps and e-charging stations. Examples from abroad show that power grids in the dynamic environment can be balanced with suitable technology and stabilised, and that we don’t have to worry about blackouts.
The response of your colleague, Igor Kulašić, Head of Smart Infrastructure at Siemens Slovenia, to the question regarding potential blackouts was that “exactly these new technologies and dynamic grid management provide for a stable network”. Since we spoke to him particularly about buildings and their digitalisation, he added that “if a building is both the consumer and the producer of the energy and perhaps even has its own storage, while also being integrated into the grid, the chance of a power outage is relatively low”. What would you say about whether we steer these changes in a suitably balanced way and whether, as a society, we adapt quickly enough to the necessary developments? If not, what would it take to speed things up?
The goal is to establish a smart system in which the power grid, producers, buildings, industrial plants and consumers participate largely independently. The more precise the planning and changing of smart buildings or the consumption by industrial plants are, the more adaptable the energy system can be. The basic requirement for better adaptability is greater transparency of the state of the grid and interaction between connected components. Digital connections, and the control of renewable energy sources and other conventional energy producers must be supported.
‘Blockchain’ will play an important role in the decentralised future of energy. We have a pilot project in Brooklyn (MORE), which includes interaction. We see that this may be a component of a decentralised, digitalised system in the future. In the long term, we believe that energy providers and several main entities that aggregate and balance networks will continue to exist, but there will be an option for consumers to communicate directly to energy providers, which will be supported by the ‘blockchain’ technology.
Do you see the EUR 750 billion EU budget for eliminating direct economic and social damage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and starting off sustainable recovery as a path towards the desired changes?
It is difficult to say how many funds are sufficient at the EU level. Scientists point out that we are far from green recovery (MORE). Particularly crucial is how fast, and to what extent, these public funds will attract private investments.
Check also a video interview with the CEO of Siemens in Slovenia and Croatia, Medeja Lončar (in Slovene).
This article is available also in Slovene.