Stefano Mantegazza, Head of Industry, Services, Energy and Retail, NTT DATA, looks into the future of smart energy and the use of new business models and new technologies.
The latest International Energy Outlook predicts that worldwide energy demand will rise by 56% by the year 2040. While renewable energy sources are reducing the reliance on fossil fuels, it creates a more complex and unpredictable energy source landscape, meaning energy management systems need to become intelligent. When information technology is used to overlay intelligence onto the electrical grid, it becomes possible to gather and react to information on supply demand and grid optimisation. Extending this, collecting data about the behaviour of suppliers and consumers in an automated fashion can improve the efficiency, reliability, economics and sustainability of the electricity production and distribution.
Because storing energy on a large scale is not currently feasible, grid stability requires a balance between power consumption and creation. 'Virtual power plants' work by more effectively coordinating power consumption and generation. A centrally controlled, interconnected facility enables the various elements of renewable, traditional and micro-generation to respond to fluctuations on the grid and ensure that an optimal power output is maintained. In addition, the sophistication and speed of modern data analysis tools means that modellers can now provide much more accuracy to ensure production (supply) is more closely linked to demand.
This is especially important, as regulation has introduced huge costs to the energy companies related to the network latency. In essence, new rules are underway that make the producer pay when energy is not balanced. The end result is that near real-time monitoring of supply and demand is going to become crucial, as is the ability to model usage patterns in order to accurately predict demand and shape energy supply accordingly. Business intelligence solutions can ensure more efficient production from every source; even looking for problems before they occur and proactively manage potential issues.
Distribution is the second part of the equation. Currently, most operators work very reactively when it comes to the maintenance and repair of power grids, but as demand grows and the flow of power becomes increasingly bi-directional the automation of network maintenance and repairs is going to become critical to minimising service disruption to users. Tapping into intelligent supply, demand and grid optimisation data will allow providers to look for problems before they arise and fix them before they become an issue.
This intelligent insight into the distribution network can also be pivotal in ensuring balanced energy supplies to match ever-changing user demands. Traditionally, power demand has been dynamic while production has been relatively static. When an intelligent communication layer is added into the grid, it becomes possible to transform the energy distribution and dynamically allocate energy where it is needed. This is particularly useful when considering the integration of consumer micro grids into the larger network.
The final piece of the puzzle occurs at the point of consumption - whether within the home or business. The introduction of advanced metering infrastructure, such as smart metering, provides more insight into customer usage and encourages more accurate billing and better load balancing across the network.
In those places that still use analogue meters, the usage has to be managed manually. This either involves consumers reading and submitting readings or a member of the energy company's workforce coming round. This is a laborious manual process and usually only gets done a few times a year. Not only is this expensive but, with so few data points, gathering any intelligence on energy usage is almost impossible.
Smart metering enables energy companies to manage infrastructure assets with significant cost savings. Energy usage is automatically transmitted back to the provider, on a regular and frequent basis, providing far better insight into actual usage and customer behaviour.
To thrive in the complex, shifting and highly regulated environment of the energy sector, companies need to optimise their business processes and IT solutions to address operational, commercial and energy management challenges.
This requires new levels of deep intelligence to be inserted to every aspect of the production, delivery and consumption of energy. From smarter plant design and maintenance, more effective energy trading and dynamic power distribution and load management, through to intelligent usage and micro-grid generation.
This is beneficial for both consumers and energy and utility companies, improving the overall user experience through improved insight and more personalised services. This is the future of smart energy.