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New Age of Energy

Linda Jackman looks at the progress being made towards a smarter grid

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There are growing signs of a smart grid rollout across the Middle East region.
There are growing signs of a smart grid rollout across the Middle East region.

Oracle Utilities’ Linda Jackman looks at the current progress being made towards smarter Middle East grids

The smart grid has been discussed by the energy industry for almost a decade now. In that time we’ve been well educated on the benefits it will bring and the wholesale change required, yet we haven’t actually seen a true smart grid in action.

On many levels this is frustrating, but entirely understandable. After all, the move to a smart energy network represents one of the biggest changes to energy infrastructures across the globe, and the scale of such transformational projects cannot be overstated.

Nor should the concept’s implementation be rushed. For the Middle East in particular, the smart grid will go a long way to satisfying growing demand for energy, while easing reliance on expensive and high emitting fossil fuels.

In the current global market where governments and industries are tasked with reducing costs and emissions, the smart grid could prove to be a critical factor in making it a reality.

Gathering pace

There are signs that the rollout of a smart grid in the Middle East is starting to gather momentum. In April 2012, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority invited proposals and tenders from consulting companies to implement a smart grid strategy.

Similarly, member nations of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have been investing hundreds of billions of dollars into harnessing the power of solar energy in the region. The smart grid is a key enabler of using renewable energy, which means creating this infrastructure can only help to accelerate the rollout.

However, the implementation of the smart grid across the region will require large scale investment. According to the Arab Petroleum Investment Corporation, the Middle East and North African power sector needs $380bn to meet the energy demands of businesses and households.

This is obviously a big investment, and while the increased efficiency of the power networks will deliver increased savings, supported by a reduced reliance on fossil fuels empowering governments to export more of their resources, governments will need to invest heavily in the energy infrastructure.

Given the smart grid’s scale, cost, and importance, there’s little room for error in its implementation. So what technologies and processes should Middle Eastern utilities be prioritising at this crucial stage?

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The convergence of OT and IT

Traditionally, utilities have tended to split their operational infrastructure from their other technology requirements.

On one side is a discrete set of distribution software and hardware: otherwise known as operations technology (OT), designed to ensure a safe, secure and reliable flow of power. On the other, various business departments within the business are using separate IT functions to address financial and customer needs.

Yet today, modern utility companies across the globe are increasingly finding that OT and IT needs to be integrated together in order to optimise business performance. Emerging customer and community needs, such as managing increased energy demand in Middle Eastern cities, requires close co-ordination between grid operations and customer-facing departments.

None of a utility’s separate business departments can effectively address the customer needs alone, which is why energy providers must make this change.

In fact, this is an issue which is often overlooked during smart grid implementations. Therefore, by removing walls that have previously separated engineers from the rest of the business, Middle Eastern utilities have an opportunity to steal a march on their global competitors and lead the way in the implementation of smart grid technologies.

Once utilities embrace the convergence of IT and OT, they will need to evolve their network models, as these will become out-dated and unable to efficiently support the needs of the next generation energy infrastructure.

The smart grid will bring with it a range of new devices that will need to integrate with the grid – most notably smart meters, but also home renewable sources and electric vehicles.

As a result, the energy infrastructure will become more complex as it will have to manage new devices and capabilities. For this reason, utilities must deploy an effective and modern network management system capable of handling every part of the energy network to ensure they maximise investments and take full advantage of the opportunities available in the region.

With more devices and new innovations (smart meters and electric vehicles in particular) being introduced across and within the energy infrastructure, utilities are tasked with managing more data than ever before.

This creates a new challenge for utilities, and to ensure they are enhancing operational performance across every aspect of the business – from asset reliability and replacement planning, to load forecasting and distribution management, to customer communications and conservation programmes – they must ensure they are optimising the value the data brings to their business.

For utilities, this involves deploying asset management solutions that empower them to better manage the various network components across the infrastructure to improve performance and the services being delivered.

In addition, utilities need to prioritise every business process involved in the handling of data; not only in its collection, but by also investing in the right systems and talent needed to effectively analyse the information collected from smart meters and other network components.

This will not only enable utilities to streamline business operations, but additionally deliver a greater insight into energy usage, empowering utilities to improve their customer experience.

For example, by better understanding a customer’s consumption patterns, utilities can offer personalised offers, while the intelligent energy network can reduce outage times increasing the service yet further.

An energy injection

One of the smart grid’s key benefits in the Middle East is its ability to integrate renewable energy sources, enabling utilities to use the abundant supply of solar power in the region.

To take advantage of this capability, utilities must ensure that they have in place a network that provides accurate accounting of energy injections and flow of power, across the distribution network.

Advanced distribution management functions, meanwhile, will prove essential to provide system operators and dispatchers the most complete assessment of the nature of power delivery in the distribution network through real-time, near-term forecasts.

The new age of energy

We are on the cusp of a new age of energy consumption, distribution and management, which will dramatically change all aspects of our relationship with energy. The way we use energy has changed and what customers expect from utilities is evolving likewise.

On top of this, businesses are tasked with lowering emissions while doing more with less. Therefore, it is essential utilities across the globe, and in the Middle East, upgrade their networks to ensure they are capable of handling modern demands; failure to do so will only result in significant environmental, financial, and social consequences.

There is no hiding from the fact that the wholesale changes needed will require large-scale investments from Middle Eastern utilities and governments. Yet, when you consider the environmental and financial opportunities available it is an investment well worth making.

In the coming years next generation energy platforms will be the norm, and it’s essential utilities in the Middle East are equipped to deal with the demands and opportunities it will present.

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