Q&A: Jochen Kreusel, head of smart grids, ABB

An industry guru explains what 'smart grid' means to him.

Jochen Kreusel: Smart grid is a term open to interpretation.
Jochen Kreusel: Smart grid is a term open to interpretation.

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Is it hype, or is it worth all the fuss? Jochen Kreusel, Global Head of ABB's Smart Grids Industry Sector Initiative, explains what ‘smart grid’ means to him.

What is really meant by 'smart grid'?
Smart grid is, in fact, a term open to interpretation and the answer will vary depending on the background of whom you ask. For us in ABB, it is synonymous with the power systems of the future.

It involves both transmission and distribution and focuses on the integration of distributed and renewable generation, as well as on the reliability and efficiency of the grid. Further, it includes the demand response and the potential of new technologies such as large scale integration of electric vehicles. Smart grid includes both automation/information technologies and controllable power devices in the whole value chain from production to consumption of electrical energy.

To explain it differently: We see a number of fundamental changes and challenges for supply and application of electricity. The most important being aged infrastructures; we shouldn't forget, that many power systems in mature markets are reaching end of life now for the first time.

Integrating highly volatile generation; connecting bulk, remote generation clusters; co-ordinating highly distributed generation are developments that are leading to the increased need for information from the system and remote controllability i.e. more sensors and actors in the field as well as more real-time control. This requires advanced network control systems and, last but not least, a much closer integration of the automation layer with the business software layer, also referred to as OT/IT integration (OT= operational technology / IT = Information technology).

What is the ultimate benefit of a smart grid for utilities and customers?
As explained, we see smart grid solutions as a response to new tasks for power system operators, and not as something to be deployed for its own purpose. Based on this understanding, the benefit for all stakeholders - utilities and consumers - is getting the most cost-efficient and reliable solution of these tasks.

For example, if you want to integrate a high share of volatile, distributed generation using renewable energy, smart grid technologies will enable you to achieve this without threatening the reliability or quality of supply and with a minimum need of grid upgrades. The benefit in this case would be the integration of carbon-free energy at minimum possible cost. 

Another example would be giving consumers more transparency of their consumption by using a smart meter infrastructure: This can help network operators to increase the utilisation of their assets and customers to reduce their electricity bill by using electricity more consciously.

A third example is improved outage and asset management: If a network operator gets more information from his assets he can respond faster in case of failures and he can plan his investments more precisely. Both should result in increased quality of supply and lower overall costs.

Is smart grid still just an idea or has anyone actually managed to implement one?
In our understanding, smart grid technologies are a toolbox of advanced solutions which will be deployed in an evolutionary process depending on the particular needs of the utilities. We do not expect anybody to implement a smart grid as a disruptive step. Having said that, I can answer your question with a yes.

For instance, we have installed a comprehensive asset health management system at AEP, the biggest transmission network operator in the United States, we are deploying a smart grid control centre for a regional 110 kV distribution network with high share of volatile wind power for E.ON in Sweden, we have developed intelligent secondary substations for the integration of rooftop solar panels in Germany and we are participating in smart grid pilot projects in China, which are the basis for a large scale roll-out as the next step.

These are examples of real implementations taking place already today. On the other side, we are, of course, also active in pilot projects, in which we are developing and testing further solutions for the power systems of the future together with our customers.

What does it take to create s smart grid and does it require ripping out most of what's already there?
First of all, it is very important to understand what shall be achieved by using smart grid technologies. This is an important pre-requisite for selecting the right solutions. Close co-operation between users and providers of new solutions is definitely helpful here.

And no, using smart grid solutions in most cases does not require ripping out the installed base, as our solutions usually are designed in a way that they can be deployed step-by-step into an existing environment. The need for a disruptive replacement would be strongly conflicting with the long lifetime of components of power systems.

How much does a smart grid cost to implement and run?
According to our understanding, a smart grid is the most cost-efficient solution to deal with a particular situation. So the cost is related to a specific situation and the smart grid technology.

Can reality ever match hype once smart grids are implemented and running?
We have been cautious about the hype that definitely has been around the term ‘smart grid’. We have, therefore, worked hard from the very beginning, using our comprehensive knowledge of electricity supply and application, to break down the term to tangible solution packages responding to the real needs of our customers.

Examples of such packages are distribution grid automation, integration of renewables, demand response or storage systems. We are absolutely convinced that these advanced solution packages will be able to meet customer expectations.

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