Yves Meyer, Vice President of Asia-Pacific Sales, Smart Wires was recently interviewed for the CLSA U report Cleaning Up the mix: Disruption in Japan’s power grid. He discusses the state of power flow control technology and its potential to smarten the grid. Below are remarks from his interview:
What are the incumbent technologies for power flow control for T&D?
Incumbent power flow control technologies for the T&D industry are typically classified as Flexible Alternating Current Transmission System (FACTS) devices. These technologies use sophisticated power electronics to compensate transmission lines and thereby control and improve network power throughput. The reliability of these technologies continues to improve, but their general form factor has not changed in recent decades.
In contrast to FACTS, which tend to be centralized and highly custom, Smart Wires leverages modular building blocks that can be easily integrated into existing transmission networks to improve utilization and alleviate congestion
What are the drivers of power flow technology development?
The key driver for power flow control technology development is unprecedented rapid change of the power system. Generation sources and their locations are changing and there is ever increasing uncertainty around the future of coal and nuclear resources. Utilities will also need to respond to the challenges ahead in meeting the world’s carbon targets. Furthermore, the ways that consumers are interfacing with their distribution networks are evolving with the advent of distributed energy resources. The transmission system was not conceived to accommodate the pace of these changes. Introducing power flow control elements allows this grid to be rapidly repurposed for today’s and future realities.
What are the some of the technical challenges to deploying effective power flow solutions?
Reliable performance is critical for electric utilities. The notion of “keeping lights on” is by far the most important core mission for these service providers. Technologies deployed by electric utilities must be able to withstand harsh environmental conditions for decades with as little maintenance as possible. Designing and building technology to meet those needs, and that operates reliability and safely, both physically and from a cybersecurity perspective, is the critical challenge for solution providers.
What kinds of business innovations are needed to make power flow control affordable?
Affordability is not a barrier facing power flow control solutions. Building a new transmission line is incredibly expensive but is often the preferred and known approach. And although public acceptance can be a challenge, utilities can typically justify that expense for reliability reasons. Simply put, utilities have not been incented to be innovative or to embrace change. Change can be incredibly unsettling, especially when the consequences of failure are as dramatic as they are for electric utilities.
What kinds of regulations or policies do you see as needed in this space?
By definition, rate of return regulation incentivizes utilities to invest vast amounts of capital in infrastructure projects. These schemes were put in place to ensure that monopoly entities made sufficient and regular system improvements and expansions. While more and more states and countries are considering modifications to regulations that affect utility earnings, such as performance metrics, additional work is needed to align utility and consumer incentives.
Specifically pertaining to Smart Wires, how does its technologies coordinate with utilities?
Smart Wires technology is deployed similarly to other devices that utilities operate in the field. Using utility-preferred and cyber secure communications protocols, operators in the utility control room can monitor and control Smart Wires systems, which leverages existing communication technologies (e.g. cellular, radio, etc.) as well as third-party tested encryptions. Tools like Smart Wires, which represent modular, scalable, and rapidly deployable (and redeployable) solutions, will play a key role in this power system transformation and as utilities seek to optimize their grid investments moving forward.
What are the opportunities for power flow solutions like Smart Wires’ in Japan and around the world?
In Japan’s case, Smart Wires solutions can support the integration of utility-scale solar PV and wind farms by reducing the costs and time associated with the interconnection of these new and variable generation sources.
Smart Wires solutions are most effective in states or countries with existing, fairly-meshed transmission and distribution networks. Most developed countries with robust networks are experiencing tremendous changes in generation and load, and see compelling value in these offerings.