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When bits drive watts in the Middle East

Alaa Elshimy, MD & Senior Vice President, Huawei Enterprise Business Group - Middle East, explains how electric power companies can further embrace digitalization as the lifelines of national economic development

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Alaa Elshimy, MD & Senior Vice President, Huawei Enterprise Business Group
Alaa Elshimy, MD & Senior Vice President, Huawei Enterprise Business Group

Countries across the Middle East are working to rebound after a challenging first half of the year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We see once again that human progress is closely linked with the evolution of energy.

Nations have also been reminded of the close link between the energy sector and information & communications technologies (ICT). Advancements in 5G, AI, IoT, and cloud computing are now fundamental to the energy industry’s digital transformation in the Middle East.  Indeed, technology has always played an important role in the energy market. However, the sheer power of today’s ICT infrastructure is drastically changing how power is produced and distributed.

Moreover, as nations in the Middle East reignite investments in smart city programs, the involvement of power companies in digital transformation can make a huge difference in their ability to meet long-term national development visions. After all, a badly performing, unreliable power grid directly impacts the economy and, with that, quality of life. 

Both electric power companies and utility providers in the Middle East are ultimately searching for solutions to improve service quality and efficiency. Huawei has seen this firsthand supporting more than 190 electric power companies in the world, 10 of which are among the industry top 20. Many utility providers, for example, are now under pressure to streamline costs and operations to meet new safety and security regulations as a result of COVID-19.

This is also happening as the industry is moving from centralized power generation to distributed renewable generation. The focus of power grid companies is shifting from a safe power supply to supply reliability and sustainability. The electricity industry has thus been undergoing a process of market-oriented reform in support of larger national and international sustainability targets.

In short, the task at hand comes down to driving watts with “bits”—building smart grids that help electric power enterprises to accelerate development. Although this is an ongoing transformation, we have identified three important avenues through which organizations in the Middle East can continue to build a fully-connected smart grid: power transmission communications networks, power distribution automation communications, and the expansion of smart solar Photovoltaic (PV) energy generation.

Looking at power transmission communication networks, added-value is now being created in delivering advanced services from video surveillance to conferencing. As more Internet Protocol (IP)-enabled smart grids become operational in the Middle East, a number of advanced services such as telepresence conferencing, video surveillance, and office automation, also become possible. However, traditional Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) communication networks cannot effectively carry such advanced services. As such, the transformation of communication networks over electric power grids requires high bandwidth and reliability, simultaneous transmission of TDM and IP services, and complex communication interfaces. In the end, electric power industry operators need to build combined TDM/IP communications infrastructure that can provide a variety of services and safeguard against multiple points of failure.

Electric power companies will also benefit even more from power distribution automation in the near future. While distribution automation (DA) — smart control over a grid — is an effective tool to intelligently match supply with demand by closely monitoring grid devices, DA’s functioning can be problematic on legacy grids. In the Middle East, these are often comprised of aging devices and lines with unbalanced distribution, high line loss, and low overall power quality. However, new DA solutions adopt leading ICT technologies — including x Passive Optical Network (xPON), enterprise Long Term Evolution (eLTE), industrial-grade Ethernet switches, and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) — to retrofit already installed grids. This in turn modernizes them with intelligent distribution, lowering costs, and improving operational efficiency.

Moreover, one of the most common demands today is supporting higher yields and maximizing the ROI of the power plant lifecycle. This is where energy innovation and ICT really come together to make an impact, especially in the Middle East where solar is an increasingly important part of the energy mix. From power plant design and construction to operations and maintenance (O&M), ICT leaders like Huawei now play a key role in consulting throughout the entire lifecycle of Photovoltaic (PV) energy generation by integrating cutting-edge digital, Internet, and PV technologies. For example, with digitalization, an inverter is not only a power generation component, but also a smart PV controller incorporating power conversion, data collection, online analysis, and environmental adaptation. Advanced ICT also enables automatic O&M. Head offices can check the operating status and the revenue of each power plant, laying the foundation for performance evaluation and management improvement.

These are of course only three of the ways that the next wave of digital transformation will help electric power companies and utility providers in the Middle East. From power generation and transmission to distribution and consumption, advanced ICT solutions are improving the entire energy industrial chain, and will enable the increased business efficiency that so many organizations are looking for today.

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