Gary Rackliffe & Adrian Timbus : Digitalizing the grid to support energy transformation

Around the globe, energy sector operators face a number of challenges that are driving the need for grid transformation. Chief among these are the shift to renewable energy sources, aging infrastructure, cyber security threats and business model disruption from deregulation and new market designs. At the same time, grid operators need to take new steps to ensure reliability and quality of supply (for example to meet regulatory requirements), and to enhance customer experience.

Authors

Adrian Timbus ABB – Switzerland 
Gary Rackliffe – ABB America
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About

Grid Digitalization
Energy Transformation

Context

Around the globe, energy sector operators face a number of challenges that are driving the need for grid transformation. Chief among these are the shift to renewable energy sources, aging infrastructure, cyber security threats and business model disruption from deregulation and new market designs. At the same time, grid operators need to take new steps to ensure reliability and quality of supply (for example to meet regulatory requirements), and to enhance customer experience.

The result is an increasingly complex environment in which generation is shifting from bulk, centralized and well controlled power plants to numerous renewable and distributed resources that are typically weather-dependent and less predictable than traditional energy sources. There is also a growing reduction in natural inertia in the system. Moreover, load profiles are also moving from being deterministic and well defined to become more volatile, often with complex power flows. New loading patterns are being driven by the emergence of roof-top solar, batteries and e-mobility ‘behind the meter’, with power electronics interfaces that can affect power quality.

These changes require a shift from operations based on historical experience with load-following control towards system operations that integrate grid edge technologies, based on real time data. This requires new digital technologies that can harness the capabilities of cloud computing and artificial intelligence, along with higher bandwidth, higher speed communications and better sensors. In short, grid operators need to digitalize their assets.

ABB is providing the necessary architecture and key applications to enable grid operators to harvest the benefits of digitalization under the name ABB Ability – an open ecosystem for customers and partners to develop value-adding solutions. This provides a scalable, open and all-connected digital platform to support growth and enhance control and optimization in six key areas:

  • Planning and design – including technical and economic analysis for grid planning, the use of operational data for design, and solutions to support the definition of new grid connection codes
  • Operations – including data-driven predictive operations and autopilot functionalities to enable operation closer to, and beyond, current limits, along with weather-related contingencies
  • Maintenance – including predictive outage management, diagnostics-based predictive maintenance, and a digitally-connected workforce for optimal crew and asset dispatching
  • Financial optimization – including business KPI reporting, expansion planning and strategy support
  • Interfaces – including market, service and asset interfaces
  • Analytics – including grid analytics solutions to support migration to data-driven operations and asset digital twins (health, stress and lifetime monitoring).

Just recently, ABB launched the world’s first digitally integrated power transformer, which is equipped with a digital hub that can leverage a portfolio of smart devices on a modular platform, with plug-and-play capabilities. This modularity and scalability makes the system future-proof while giving users full control over their digital journey. In addition to providing actionable intelligence at the local level, the new power transformer solution enables operators to leverage the full ecosystem of software solutions and services at the station and enterprise levels – including an industry-leading Asset Performance Management System. In addition to enhancing efficiency and product life, the new digital capability will boost reliability and mitigate outages through preventative action. Soon, all power transformers leaving ABB factories will be digitalized, enabling remote monitoring and data analytics of vital parameters in real time. This will enhance reliability and enable higher utilization of grid assets and power networks. ABB has also recently introduced a service solution that deploys a submersible transformer inspection robot. The wireless robot can be maneuvered through a liquid-filled power transformer to perform fast, safe and cost-effective internal inspection, which can be shared remotely close to real time with global experts. This innovative approach, another world-first, enhances safety by reducing personnel risk, reduces down time with inspection performed in hours versus days, and brings inspection costs down by 50 per cent or more.

Another example of the potential of digitalization is Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS). These enable operators to keep the grid balanced while maintaining system reliability and power quality as the number of distributed generation connections grows. DERMS software helps operators manage increased complexity and variability of loads, enabling them to manage the entire lifecycle of distributed energy resources, from registration to optimization. One other area where this can be applied is in virtual power plants (VPPs), bringing together many geographically dispersed power generator under central control and optimization. Almost all generation and storage technologies can form part of a VPP – from biogas and biomass, through combined heat and power (CHP), wind, solar and hydro, to diesel and fossil-fired plants. Thousands of small individual units can be combined into a single VPP to gain the competitive advantage of a big player. VPP operators can monitor and plan loads, forecast deviation and participate in the energy market. DERMS handles real-time processing of large signal and data sets to manage and control assets.

Conclusion

As grid operators face a more complex environment, with the need to integrate new technologies, new players and new ways of doing business, digitalization represents perhaps the single greatest opportunity to help ensure success – supporting operators’ ambitions in sustainability, quality of supply and cost management to deliver business goals.

About the authors

Adrian Timbus
ABB Switzerland – Technology and Solutions Managers for Renewables and Smart Grids
Adrian Timbus received his master and doctoral degree from Aalborg University in Denmark in 2003 and 2007 respectively. Since 2007, Mr. Timbus held several positions at ABB, spanning from R&D, to product management and strategy definition. He has been working in the renewable area for more than a decade and currently, he is the Technology and Solutions Managers for Renewables and Smart Grids at ABB.
Gary Rackliffe
ABB America – Vice President
Smart Grids and Grid Modernization  
Gary Rackliffe is the ABB Vice President for Smart Grids and Grid Modernization and the General Manager for the Smart Grid Center of Excellence located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Gary holds BS and ME degrees in Power Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.  He is a Registered Professional Engineer and an IEEE Senior Member.  He has co-authored a T&D planning book, and has written numerous technical papers and articles.