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Boosting Efficiency with smart grids

Is the GCC ready to adopt a smarter approach towards the power crisis?

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The global market for smart grid technology is growing rapidly, with total spend expected to reach US$ 1 trillion by 2017. However, the implementation of the technology in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is yet to take off with regional utilities targeting greater efficiencies to meet escalating peak demand, according to a Frost & Sullivan report.

The smart grid market worldwide is forecast to witness a compound annual growth rate of 26.6 per cent, reaching US$ 125 billion by 2017, with 75 per cent of Europe anticipated to be smart grid-enabled by 2018, the report said.

While adoption in the GCC has been sluggish, regional countries face the challenge of addressing their growing power needs due to massive economic diversification and industrialisation activities.

In the next five years, the GCC is expected to invest close to US$ 73 billion to boost generation capacity by 36GW and improve power transmission and distribution infrastructure, with a portion of this sum anticipated to be funneled into smart grid solutions, according to the report.

“As peak electricity demand in the region grows, it is important for nations to invest in smart grid solutions to enhance energy efficiency, manage demand, and integrate renewable energy sources into the grid while improving their reliability and stability,” said Sitaram Chodimella, Head of Smart Grid Division, Middle East at Siemens.

“We see enormous potential for implementing smart grid solutions from Siemens in the GCC, especially as the region moves towards economic diversification and increased reliance on renewable energy.”

Siemens provides a comprehensive suite of smart grid solutions and services for the protection, automation, planning, monitoring and diagnosis of grid infrastructure, including for rail electrification and smart metering.

The company is implementing Qatar’s first smart metering solution under a US$13.7 million turnkey contract with Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (Kahramaa). The project will measure energy demand and help manage it during peak load periods, while seeking to identify ways to improve the billing process with customers.

“Peak electricity demand in the Gulf counties has grown by more than 65 per cent from 2002 to 2010. Based on today’s growth rate, demand for energy by 2030 is forecast to expand at a compound annual growth rate of about eight per cent,” said Abhay Bhargava, Head, Energy and Power Systems Practice, Middle East and North Africa, Frost & Sullivan told UME.

“The project by Siemens for implementing Qatar’s first smart metering solution will measure energy demand and help manage it during peak load periods,” said Bhargava.

While there have been announcements about projects that include smart grid components, there are no finalised plans to implement the technology in its totality as a complete solution, according to the Frost & Sullivan report.

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However, business dynamics for the GCC utilities are changing rapidly. The benefits of smart grid to the regional countries include improved network reliability and stability, increased network control, enabling the measurement of results of energy efficiency programmes for enhanced effectiveness, managing demand and reducing lifecycle costs among others.

Challenges in adopting smart grid solutions in the GCC persist, but the benefits are far greater. However, to maximise those benefits, utilities will have to make major changes to their infrastructure and the way they conduct business, while customising smart grid solutions to their needs, the report said.

Vendors will also be required to dedicate significant efforts into research and development activities, alliances, thought leadership, and support to utilities, to ensure successful implementation of the smart grid strategy, the report concluded.

However in the Europe, the adoption as well as growth of smart grid technology has been a tad faster, catapulting the region to the forefront. France-based Alstom is a market leader and mid-last year announced the launch of the Smart Substations Project - said to be a precursor to the smart grids of the future and an important step on the road to the energy transition.

The US$ 44 million project is said to optimise the capabilities of the electrical substation – the cornerstone of the electrical grid - based on digital and optical technology, to support the mass expansion of renewable energies. On-board smart technologies built into the substation infrastructure will provide the interactivity needed to compensate for the intermittent nature of renewable generation.

According to a press release, the smart electrical substation will be equipped with a weather station and adapt automatically to the climate conditions.

In the event of a line fault, it will analyse the situation and restore power quickly and independently when all lights are green, a capability known as “self-healing”. The substation will also feature upgraded safety and cyber-security technologies.

The trial is expected to be run at two substations located in the Somme, which has more wind farms than any other part of France, and will involve installing digital control-and-command solutions to provide advanced functionality.

The project is scheduled to last four years and the initial on-site testing will begin in the autumn of 2015, with real-live operation within the main power system by the end of 2015. Finally, the technology will be rolled out across France in stages from 2020.

Alstom’s smart grid offer provides mission-critical energy management technologies supporting global energy infrastructures. These solutions are said to integrate protection and control devices distributed within the grid, coordinated with power electronics, new power transformer technologies and high-voltage, direct current (HVDC) lines.

These solutions enable grid operators, regulators, governments and other stakeholders in the energy chain to make the smart grid a reality. According to Alstom, rollout of smart grid solutions began in transmission grids and is now expanding into distribution.

The next step is to involve all partners, networks and stakeholders by developing new large-scale, end-to-end smart grid projects for grid and city operators.

The company has developed 12 demonstration projects in leading smart grid countries across the Americas and in Europe, especially France.

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