Smart grids are a concept that is slowly starting to take shape. Smart Grids can be described as an upgraded electricity network, enabling two-way information and power exchange between suppliers and consumers, thanks to the pervasive incorporation of intelligent communication monitoring and management systems.
That which is usually called a smart grid can be divided into smart grids and smart energy systems. A smart grid contains the whole environment in which smart grid components are implemented, however this can be a hybrid system, in which legacy SCADA systems are part of it. A smart energy system is a specific network, developed as a dedicated smart energy system. Old fashioned legacy systems are not part of the smart energy system. It will be clear that in a world of energy utilities and grid operators, where lead times of 20 to 60 years are normal, a conversion to dedicated smart energy systems will take a long time.
For Smart Grids to deliver their envisaged benefits however, the realization of physical infrastructures alone will not be sufficient and must be complemented with the emergence of new business models and practices, new regulations, as well as more intangible elements such as changes to consumer behavior and social acceptance. Many different stakeholders are involved in this process and different forms of cooperation are already arising. Many challenges arise to create a smart (energy) world. I will limit this article to three trends in the smart grid industry.
#1: Consumers are more and more willing to turn into prosumers. It is a combination of the fact that climate change is becoming increasingly visible to everyone. This encourages the sentiment of a necessity to invest in environmentally friendly energy sources. The industry is rapidly developing new smart grid components which support the needs of the consumer while the products are continuously developed and the prices, due to increasing production facilities, are lowering. For example, solar panels are becoming affordable. Government subsidies support the purchase of sustainable energy sources. The public view the effort of the development of smart energy systems in urban areas and centers, and it encourages people to participate in energy saving measures themselves and to invest in environmentally friendly energy sources.
#2: Energy system manufacturers feels the need to smart grid certification. A few years ago security was not an issue. Power-producing companies and grid operators used dedicated networks. Nowadays, so called SCADA networks are connected to office automation and often to the internet. Security has become an important issue. Privacy-related data is transported over the communication infrastructure. With the development of security risk assessments specific to smart energy systems (encouraged by the US government and the European Committee) and standardized security requirements, it will pave the way to think about certification standards against ones which are yet to be determined. (e.g. NISTIR 7628, ISO/IEC 27019 etc.)
#3: Expansion of existing networks and the conversion to digital networks. The automotive industry, driven by the Kyoto protocol, is quickly changing to more sustainable cars. More full electrical cars and hybrid cars are developed and brought to the public. Some countries subsidize any form of electric transport. The challenge, however, is to expand the current “simple one-direction” power grid to a smart grid environment that has the capacity to supply all the vehicles with energy at the moment the customer needs to refill his vehicle. The largest problem is the small range of full electric vehicles which can be driven in combination with the amount of time to refill the car. Fully digital-controlled networks can provide the load and balance on the net which is necessary to guarantee a reliable grid. Grid operators are working hard on these improvements, however it will still take years to achieve the desired situation.