As alternative green energy sources come online, power plants and energy distribution substations find their networks challenged by smart grid demands that call for rapid changes between traditional and alternative energy sources. System and network integration on a smart grid that manages hybrid energy sources is on technology road maps for virtually every
utility company now, but a majority are still not diversified with
alternative energy. Consequently, the prospect of integrating
traditional and alternative energy systems with networks looms large.
For instance, when California Independent System Operator (ISO) installed a new renewable energy market system with all of the features and capacity it thought it would need for its renewable energy sources, it was a $199 million project with extensive revisions to hardware and software infrastructure, entailing the training of personnel over a one year time period. The system had to be up to the challenge of running a very diverse energy management system with a variety of energy sources. "Right now, we use nuclear, gas, wind, geothermal, bio-mass and hydro energy sources," said Jim McIntosh, Director of Grid Operations for California ISO. "We wanted a system with all of the features and capacity that we felt we would need in a diverse energy environment."
California ISO isn't the only one working on revisions to system and network infrastructures for energy management that includes green energy. Utilities in Denmark, Germany, Spain and China are well along in incorporating and distributing wind power. In Asia-Pacific, the U.S. Navy is looking for reliable alternative energy sources to improve distribution options in often fluctuating conditions. "In Hawaii, when the power goes off, the entire island can go black," said retired Navy Captain Chris Honkomp. "One of the issues that we face there is that the power generation is almost 100 percent petroleum-based." To improve the situation, the Navy is looking to build power generation plants for bio-fuels and solar power. "We have a small power grid in Hawaii," said Honkamp, "But a major concern for us has been how we will integrate and manage all of these diverse energy sources."
"In particular, we see wind energy taking off," said Alison Silverstein, an independent energy consultant based in Austin, Texas, "But when it comes to the system and network integration needed to link all of these diverse energy sources together, it's more talk than action." Silverstein feels that the system and network integration required for the distribution of hybrid energy sources is one of the major drivers behind the smart grid. "Unfortunately, right now, enthusiasm for this kind of systems integration exceeds reality," said Silverstein. "We can do many things, but we still need to understand the detailed analytics, communications and controls that are used in utilities and other industries, and that must go into the integration."
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation's (NERC) Long-Term Reliability Assessment conducted in 2008 corroborates Silverstein's statements. It states that integrating diverse energy sources, many of them variable (e.g., wind, solar), will demand revisions to systems, networks and operations and a level of IT integration that utilities have not had to consider before.