Our June +Series entitled Distributed Energy Resources & Smart Microgrids will be live in less than a week and our in-depth exploration focused on the topics of DERMS, Energy Storage, Microgrid Controllers & Management Systems, DACS, Virtual Power Plants, Interconnection, and Blockchain. In preparation, the Enlit Asia team met with a myriad of energy insiders to compile observations to share with our community the most up-to-date DER and grid news. Throughout our discussions, we found the grid themes of restructuring, fortification, and flexibility interwoven within the topics. Diversifying power sources and adding renewables for grid stability was a hot topic (no surprise there!). There was also a healthy amount of excitement surrounding ASEAN’s energy restructuring and transformation. Flexibility was a keyword that came up repeatedly because as we uncovered, the ASEAN grid’s biggest threat is balancing supply and demand coupled with adjusting to a flexible energy mix on a work-in-process grid. Despite the challenges, the ASEAN grid is on the cusp of change. If Asian countries embrace this time of transformation, the grid will be optimised and restructured to benefit consumers and utilities (everyone’s happy!).
Part of the transformation that will result from the restructuring of the grid can be accomplished in various ways such as adding optimisation software, microgrids, for example, and mesh-grids which are a burgeoning advancement that could fit into the ASEAN landscape beautifully because of mesh-grid capabilities. Afnan “Affy” Hannan, Co-Founder & CEO, Okra Energy, said during a sunlit afternoon in Morocco over a Zoom call that mesh-grids are the most flexible and rapid way of delivering energy to rural communities. Instead of waiting years for big infrastructure projects to be scheduled and rolled out, projects are completed quickly and in a matter of weeks, communities can literally flip the switch to a new power grid. According to Affy, the exciting aspect of the economics is not only is it much faster and fully renewable, but it costs about half of a traditional centralized diesel or solar hybrid mini-grid. “With mesh-grids, what we’re enabling is effectively standalone solar and battery-powered systems to be connected at a household or each dwelling, and then, if these households or dwellings are close to each other, they serve as a cluster of five or 50 [for example], these systems can actually be interlinked, and automatically any excess power from one system is actually shared to other systems.” Another pro is that when energy demand is surging, the IoT can recognise this, and then mesh-grid systems can automatically be scaled up. They are highly flexible, and due to their flexible nature, Affy said they are a suitable match for ASEAN’s geography.
Due to the flexible applications of mesh-grids, they offer adaptability, which is needed in the global energy transition. Autogrid’s Amit Narayan understands the importance of flexibility and has built flexible management applications for empowering energy providers. “I like to tell the utilities and new energy execs that in the future of utility is flexibility. Management is not just the most important thing to do. It will actually be the only way to make money because the costs are going to become free,” Amit said. Flexibility will need to be the overarching characteristic of managing assets and flexible power sources with the use of microgrids and mesh-grids, which also provide more reliability overall for the grid.
Fortifying the grid was the third theme our insiders felt was a topic needing to be addressed because it is critical for consumers. In the case of Patrick “Pat” Avery, VP Power Grid Automation, G&W Electric, who resides in America, he is troubled by the tragic Texas power outage. He said power unpredictability is and can be life-threatening. “In the case of Texas, lives were lost. There was a loss of life. From a societal standpoint, that’s the rallying cry. I believe everyone is looking at the greater good and saying we need this, we need grid modernisation, and do everything we can to have 24-7 premium power. If you embrace the technologies [available], such as almost storm-proof equipment, everyone wins. There is a return of investment, consumers have power, and there is not any loss of life,” Pat said. Another critical aspect of the grid is focusing on its resiliency. What can the grid withstand? “If you focus on reliability and resiliency, you will go down a similar road where you’ll realise, hey, microgrids are part of the future, and we need to find a way to embrace the inclusion of microgrids… In the end, if there are storms or outages that utilities cannot control, consumers will still have power,” Pat said. Richard Dourian, Director Sales Support of CYME software & solutions – Energy Automation Solutions Division for Eaton, observed that battery storage is something any utility company should have their inventory of grid necessities to fortify their grid alongside with microgrids. “Non-wire alternatives such as Energy Storage Systems are now considered by network planning engineers to address power quality and any capacity issues on critical grid assets. They can also be installed at optimal locations of the grid to create a microgrid supplying power to portions of the distribution network during outages,” Richard said.
Along with Richard, the insiders we spoke with reframed our perspective on the grid into the three pillars of grid transformation: restructuring, flexibility, and fortification. Okra, we saved for our last conversation, and Affy’s observation touched upon all three themes as well as the excitement surrounding the ASEAN grid transformation. “The really cool thing is that microgrids are pretty much 100% renewable energy base. So that’s a double win. It’s cheaper. It’s renewables, and it’s faster to implement. That’s why microgrids are becoming really, really exciting right now,” Affy said.