Unlocking Grid Flexibility with Smart Metering Data: The 3 Questions Everyone’s Asking

The world is rapidly transitioning to a new energy model. A model where the grid is powered by intermittent renewables. But while energy resources may be intermittent, energy supply must be constant. Grid Flexibility is the fastest route to achieving this. And smart metering data plays a key role.

Smart Metering Data and a Distributed Energy Model

As we shift away from a top-down energy model and towards a distributed system, ensuring that power is available when people need it is a highly complex task. It’s vital to access and analyze energy data from all parts of the grid in real time. Smart metering data is critical as it gives near real-time consumption information. Currently, much of that valuable information is left untapped.

But while Grid Flexibility is essential in the switch to a system based on intermittent renewables, there are 3 big questions people often ask:

  1. Grid Flexibility needs consumer participation. Is it too complicated for end-user buy-in?
  2. Can Grid Flexibility support resilience in an energy system powered by renewables?
  3. Data sharing is vital for Grid Flexibility. How can we achieve this?

We’ll look at the role that smart meters play in answering these questions, but first we’ll explore why Grid flexibility is so important in our future energy system.

Grid Flexibility and The Energy Transition

Whether the energy sources powering the grid come from fossil fuels or renewables, demand and supply must be balanced to avoid outages and blackouts.

With a traditional, uni-directional model, flexibility is largely met on the supply side. If consumers need more power, additional sources of energy are brought online.

With a distributed system based on renewables, demand-side dominates flexibility.

There are several reasons why this is such a complex task:

  • Increased Energy Demand. Global energy demand is set to increase by 50% by 2050 according to the US Energy Information Administration.
  • The shift to Intermittent Renewables. The IEA’s modelling predicts that by 2050, 90% of this energy demand must be met by renewables to meet Net Zero targets. Most of this (70%) will be produced by wind and solar. Meeting growing energy demands with such a large proportion of intermittent energy is challenging.
  • Electrification. Increased electrification goes hand-in-hand with the shift in renewables on the path to Net Zero. Key areas undergoing this transformation are transportation with the shift to electric vehicles (EVs), the heating and cooling of buildings, and manufacturing. But this degree of electrification is an added complication when it comes to balancing the grid. It will add enormous peak-time loads if everyone decides to charge EVs and turn on heat pumps at the same time.
  • The rise of Prosumers and Distributed Energy Resources. The use of rooftop solar and community microgrids are becoming more popular. As vehicle-to-grid technology advances, EVs, along with other storage devices, could help to store renewable energy when it’s plentiful and sell it back to the grid at peak consumption times. Two-way communication between the grid and consumers becomes a priority.

We’re heading towards an energy system that is radically different from the one we have now. Balancing this new, distributed system is no easy task. And it becomes impossible without a smart, digitalized grid, enabling two-way communication between generators, transmission and distribution utilities, and consumers.

Smart meters lie at the heart of this system. They now typically deliver data at 15-minute interval values across most of Europe. If this data can be successfully processed and analyzed in real time, it will unlock the Grid Flexibility we will need in a complex distributed energy system.

Here’s how smart metering can answer the 3 big Grid Flexibility questions.

1. How can we Persuade Consumers to Participate in Grid Flexibility?

Grid Flexibility’s success depends on building a new relationship with end-users. They become partners and active participants in the system, willing to switch their energy consumption patterns to help balance the grid.

In many parts of the world, customers must consent to the wireless communication of their smart meter data to comply with regulations such as GDPR.

When consumers don’t trust utilities with their information, or don’t see any value in sharing it, smart metering projects run into roadblocks.

Ultimately, utilities must be able to answer the question from domestic prosumers and commercial customers, ‘what’s in it for me’?

How Smart Metering Data Helps

  • The answer lies in real-time data and analytics. Smart metering must be supported by an IT infrastructure that monitors the entire value chain and can give a holistic view of AMI operations and services. Fully integrated data flows bring the real-time analytics and insights that deliver customer buy-in.
  • When real-time energy data can be disaggregated, people can become actively involved in monitoring their energy usage. End-users can be encouraged to use appliances or charge vehicles when renewable energy is plentiful or when demand is low.
  • Smart Meters can deliver similar cost savings to businesses. Organizations could be incentivized to run energy intensive equipment when more renewable energy is available.  This will be especially important as more businesses switch to EV fleets. Managing this additional load will be essential for balancing the grid. Demand response can play an important role. 
  • The advantage for customers is cost-savings. The advantage for utilities is that demand is flattened away from peak times.
  • Utilities also gain detailed information that can be used for energy and intraday forecasting, improving Grid Flexibility.

Is Demand Flexibility Too Complicated for Customers?

Demand flexibility is sometimes thought to be overly complicated for customers. Recent research indicates that this is not the case. A large-scale flexibility trial in the U.K. discovered that 98% of participants found the experience ‘beneficial and easy to do’. Every participant said they would be prepared to control their energy at least once per week.

2. Can Grid Flexibility Support Resilience in an Energy System Powered by Renewables?

Extreme weather events seem to be getting more regular. 2021 saw plunging temperatures in Texas, a heat dome in the Pacific Northwest of America, and floods in China, Germany, and Australia.

Many regions are experiencing record breaking heat waves over the summer in 2022, putting extreme pressure on the grid. Energy suppliers in China, Japan and parts of Europe are asking people to reduce their energy consumption.

While extreme weather events are not the only source of service interruptions, their increased frequency is pushing grid resilience to the top of the agenda for energy suppliers, consumers, and governments around the world.

How Smart Metering Data Helps

  • Grid Flexibility, using smart metering data, is a way of improving resilience and combatting service interruptions.
  • Instead of putting out blanket calls to reduce energy use, imagine using smart metering information to make targeted appeals to end-users. Spreading energy consumption more evenly reduces the risk of power failure and ensures that everyone has access to the energy they need at a moment of crisis.
  • The World Economic Forum identifies demand response as a mean of ensuring electricity systems are as resilient as possible to climate risks. It highlights digital technologies as an important aspect of this.
  • When smart metering is employed as part of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure, consumption data can be analyzed in real-time and used to manage demand.
  • Smart metering data when supported by effective IT infrastructure delivers visibility of the entire distribution grid and plays a critical role in delivering resilience. It can give a detailed picture of leaks, service quality and interruptions. Utilities can be aware of faults and service interruptions, before customers have had a chance to call them in.

3. Data sharing makes Grid Flexibility possible. How can we achieve this?

For Grid Flexibility to work effectively, data must be shared throughout the energy system. A new collaborative framework is needed between all energy sector participants. This includes collaboration between utilities, retailers, prosumers and end-users, and also between Transmission System Operators (TSOs) and Distribution System Operators (DSOs).

In a distributed system, DSOs take a more active role in system management. They may quickly meet local demand by bringing on a distributed energy resource. This causes issues for the TSO if they are unaware of the connection.

DSOs will need to share smart metering data with TSOs to ensure a stable, secure energy supply as we move to a distributed energy model.

How Smart Metering Data Helps

  • TSOs alongside DSOs have a central role in enabling access to smart meter data. This can give us a bird’s eye view of how the energy system works in a distributed system. It can also be used to optimize efficiencies, reduce operating costs, and innovate new services.
  • From individual smart meter data, to distributed energy resources, and from meteorological information to national data hubs, the more energy data that is shared, the more effectively Grid Flexibility will operate.
  • This is an opportunity for utilities. They can provide a central data platform for integrating and sharing energy data from all energy sector participants.
  • For data sharing platforms to work effectively they must be cloud based and scalable, flexible and elastic. They must be able to handle multiple new integrations that can be added (or removed) without interfering with other integrations. And they must be fast. With the volume of new integrations needed, they must be up and running in a matter of weeks.

We already have the technology that enables us to share and exchange information. But unless individuals agree that their smart meter data can be used, Grid Flexibility cannot operate. Questions of interoperability, governance and privacy all need to be addressed. How can the system renumerate people for sharing their information? The energy sector must find ways to communicate that sharing smart meter data will benefit end-users, their communities and the path to Net Zero.

Here at Greenbird we have developed a unique approach to data integration and provisioning bringing distributed energy services onto a single energy data mesh. We do this through Utilihive, an enterprise integration platform built for digital utilities offering an enterprise architecture for mission critical systems, able to harness the full potential of smart meters. Utilihive SMOC, designed for those responsible for smart meter operations, includes rollout and installation monitoring, simulation capabilities, end-to-end monitoring of all data and integration flows and Utilihive MonAMI, an intuitive map-based energy data web application providing real-time visibility into the low/mid voltage network.

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