Electrical Power Systems Development Balance of Physics and Market Mechanisms Based on Innovative Technologies

september 14, 2021

On July 20, 2021, a video conference was organized by the ELECTRIC POWER. Transmission and Distribution journal with the support of CIGRE Russian National Committee. During the video conference representatives of the publishing company took an exclusive interview with Michel Augonnet, CIGRE President. The conversation was attended by the Director for Strategic Projects of the ELECTRIC POWER. Transmission and Distribution journal Alexander Pavlov, technical translator of the publishing company Maksim Silaev and the RNC CIGRE executive director Olga Frolova.

Good afternoon, Michel! The past year has forced many players in the electrical power industry to take a fresh look at the problems of power engineering development. For the majority, it became obvious that the future belongs to digital technologies, providing a solution to the power system management problems and operation of its facilities. In addition, demand management technologies are developing, including the use of artificial intelligence. Consumers who are becoming active participants in the electrical power markets and place increasing demand on system reliability and range of services are having an increasing impact on power engineering systems. In this regard, what is your long-term vision for changing the world's electrical power systems? What changes should be made to the policies of global organizations and electrical power industry companies?

Indeed, today, a lot of attention is paid to digitalization in power systems development. However, a few wonder, how much these technologies are really changing the world of electrical power industry? Was it possible to solve the emerging problems in some other way?

It is a fact that today you need to operate large amounts of completely different data to manage a network. At the same time, this data processing and the corresponding management influences on its basis must be carried out very quickly, because the network is becoming less and less stable.

I often cite two examples: we have experienced two major changes in our industry. The first change was the separation between generation, transmission and distribution of electric power. It changed the way vertically integrated companies operate and led to the creation of new information relationship and interfaces for interaction. When you have an interface, it needs to be managed. Then the second wave of transformation took place, namely decentralized power supply development. It doesn't matter if it is green energy or traditional one. The moment you allow someone to simultaneously generate electric power and remain a consumer, you also completely change the network.

The question is, who controls all of this? This is a significant problem we face today.

We also continue to push forward the idea of power engineering markets. This idea on many issues has been organized purely from an economic point of view considering that a market can solve all problems. Historically, the idea of such markets served as a measure of support for the initial decision to split the electrical power sector. Thus, in the current environment it certainly requires adjustment and adaptation to changing market conditions. We see that the market also has limits because the laws of physics are often more stubborn and they don't follow the market, they just are what they are.

Therefore, now we are at the stage when it is necessary to make the transition from the traditional and familiar unidirectional network to a more complex one. New type of the network is characterized by a lot of flow directions and many consumers, who are both generators and market players. Today almost any consumer can become a generator in the network. It could be enterprises, schools or individuals. We must adapt to these new conditions, when it is no longer enough to maintain a balance between generation and power consumption, but it is necessary to manage power consumption based on the available and changing generating capacities. Also, in these conditions, the network regulation system must provide the ability to switch off any generator at a certain level of the network.

Basically, the big changes that I see are obviously the transition to renewable energy sources. The question is, how will the stability of the network be ensured? Are we insured? Will we still have large generators?

Some states are in favor of nuclear power development. Both in France and in Russia a general opinion exists that nuclear power largely ensures the stability and sustainability of the power system. From an environmental point of view, nuclear power also has certain advantages, since it is not a source of carbon dioxide emissions. Other sources of pollution take place there, but in terms of CO2 emissions, nuclear power is considered green and its development is one of the real ways to achieve the goals of forming a civilized green power system. 

Another aspect that I would like to draw your attention to is energy storage systems development and the constantly increasing number of corresponding devices (including those in electric vehicles) connected to the network at various voltage levels. Such devices completely change the attitude to the classic market relations we got used to: payment to operators of electrical networks for power and capacity transmitted through electrical networks.

Tomorrow, it is quite likely that we will have to create a power market for the fact of connection. It will become important since the network will no longer be so much a source of electricity for such consumers-generators, as a kind of guarantee of stability, reliability and operation safety. This approach radically changes the market management system.

Technical solutions and constraints previously considered as dogma in the development and management of networks will change. Here again, we are primarily talking about the energy storage systems development. Already, most large network operators consider accumulation systems as storage facilities to ensure the reliability of power supply to consumers and the way to stabilize the voltage. It is necessary to change the relevant industry rules for building and managing power system for the full use of such system elements.

Thus, a new world opens in front of us. In this world market regulation mechanisms follow the laws of physics and are connected with the new technologies constant integration.

You mentioned renewable energy sources development. Indeed, every year renewable energy sources become cheaper and more efficient. Modern power engineering policies in many countries have made renewable energy the key for solving the problem of reducing CO2 emissions while power demand is increasing. This year in February we saw a large-scale power outage in Texas, which revealed some shortcomings of such generation sources. So we need to expand knowledge on ensuring the sustainability of electric power system. What technologies and technical solutions can solve this problem?

It is already clear that renewables are the main game changer today. Solving the problem of reducing CO2 emissions and depleting fossil resources, we develop renewable energy sources on the one hand. On the other hand, renewable energy sources are much more volatile and less controllable than traditional generators. Of course, we have learned to make more or less accurate forecasts and increase the efficiency of renewable energy management, but still, we often have to move large amount of electrical power from one region to another.

In Europe, the demand for renewable energy is at least 30%, and in some countries it reaches 100%, at least for a certain period of time. It is obvious that here it will be necessary to solve the problems of rapid energy transfer from various parts of Europe. This will lead to the need for high-voltage DC lines construction to be able to move power from one place to another, depending wind, sun and consumer's location. It will also require increased control over electrical power consumption.

It is also necessary to control both voltage and frequency of a network. In this issue, the role of distribution companies together with consumers is increasing. In the near future, they will make a significant contribution to ensuring the flexibility of electrical power markets, demand management and network regulation.

Another idea still seems very remote in its implementation world regions unification into a single network through ultra-high voltage DC lines. This solution will significantly increase the flexibility of power system and ensure safety of generation when necessary.

One of the main factors of the system's stability is competent operational and dispatching management. Which management system or structure is more effective in the current and future conditions?

Dispatching will probably have to be carried out at different levels. We may need to monitor and control capacity and flows at the continental level. Each country, obviously, will need control at its own level for strategic reasons. Earlier I have mentioned the creation of a network with many directions of flows. Taking it into account, you will need a competent dispatching system at the level of low-voltage distribution networks. Only with such a multi-level system it will be possible to competently manage consumption and network modes.

Competent management is impossible without complete information about the state of the network and individual consumers. At the level of distribution networks, an important stage in ensuring its observability is the creation of a system based on intelligent metering devices. We consider it as important promising technology.

Here we come back to your first question about digital technologies and data. When you need to switch off someone's heat boiler, you need first to have information that it is switched on. It is a current situation. It is also necessary to be able to influence a specific section of the network or a specific group of consumers. We need a multi-level management structure and intelligent metering devices for monitoring various consumers. Energy contracts are also important in this system. These contacts allow us to consolidate certain agreements and adapt them to the operating conditions of the network and the economic preferences of consumers.

Thus, it is necessary to take into account the technological, managerial and contractual aspects in this issue. Moreover, the simplest of them is technological, since technologies exist. The main questions for today are how much people understand the advantages of such relationship and how much they are willing to pay and on what terms to conclude contracts? We can already see that in a number of countries with high electricity quality and poor access to the grid, consumers are not ready to pay for high reliability. They provide it independently using local RES and energy storage systems. Such approaches greatly expand the range of contractual relations between consumers and territorial network organizations.

What types of energy contracts are most in the interests of consumers and power engineering companies?

I didn't mention earlier that one of the ways to reduce CO2 emissions is increasing the use of electrical power instead of mechanical power or heating systems. When you have an electric heater, tomorrow you could use a heat pump that has much greater efficiency. At enterprises, one of the solutions may be the installation of electric drives where other types of motors were previously located. Of course, we remember the development of electric transport.

The task here is twofold. On the one hand, it is necessary to replace the use of oil products, gas and coal with electric power, and on the other hand, it is also necessary to reduce the volume of electrical power consumption, since any saved kilowatt-hour is less emissions in any form.

The types of services that consumers will look for are replacements or enhancements to what they have now. If we are talking about residential consumers, then first of all we are talking about electric vehicles, heating systems, solutions for redundant power supply to improve quality and reliability. Tariffing forms will change, and payments will be charged for connection, not for kilowatt-hours.

At the same time, schemes are quite possible when a consumer who has his own generation will receive some kind of payment or bonuses per kilowatt-hour from power distribution companies. This radically changes the view of the system, which should become more transparent for all stakeholders.

Additional services, such as maintenance of new intelligent power engineering management systems and individual elements of the consumers power infrastructure will also be developed. New markets are open for both power engineering infrastructure operators and independent organizations. 

I am sure that the consequence of the measures implementation to improve energy efficiency will be reduction in the volume of electricity transmission through the grids and revenue decrease of power engineering companies. Such companies in turn will have to look for the new solutions and master new types of services for consumers. For example, it can be contracts for electricity supply with high reliability or with less reliability. Over time, we will see that the service packages will become more complete and complex every time the parties want to achieve an optimal result.

You mentioned the creation of global power links between continents and countries. Which of these projects, in your opinion, are the most significant and effective in the future?

First of all, I would highlight the power links between countries and outlying islands. Very important projects are currently underway for the high-voltage DC lines construction between wind turbines in the North Sea and the mainland.

Some support from the European Commission exists here. Coordinated work is carried out between various suppliers and customers. Interesting projects combining different solutions are being implemented in Denmark and Germany. The DC multi-terminal hub is the most important one. It will reduce the cost of connecting large wind farms to the shore facilities.

Large projects are also being implemented on other continents, but they are more classical in their technical solutions. The most advanced technologies are being tested today in the North Sea projects.

How and by whom should such global connections be controlled?

Well, technically it is definitely doable. You can look, for example, at the United States, where large independent system operators work in many states. A similar scheme works in Europe and also demonstrates its efficiency. When you go outside of Europe, it becomes more difficult. There is simply a need for some coordination between the various system operators.

Recently, an incident occurred on the territory of Bulgaria. It was accompanied by a large loss of power. Then European operators were able to implement a number of technical measures and mitigate the consequences. Such an experience demonstrates the advantages of a multi-level management structure.

Lot of countries consider hydrogen as a promising and environmentally friendly energy resource. How are the technologies and equipment for producing hydrogen and converting it into other types of energy developing? What are the CIGRE forecasts regarding changes in the topology and structure of the electric power system in the future?

Recently, CIGRE has been conducting similar studies on hydrogen. They relate to the issues of creating on its basis energy reserves in the network and the creation of a multi-sectoral energy transmission system. However, we still view hydrogen as something in the experimental development stage, primarily because the transformation ratio is only 20%. If you replace electrical power with hydrogen, today it is only economically viable if you think your energy costs nothing and try to save excess energy.

If we want to make hydrogen a full-fledged energy carrier in the system, we must find other ways of its production and transformation. Hydrogen is in the spotlight today, most of the industry is focusing on hydrogen. But I think we are still too optimistic about the speed of hydrogen be expanded in the real economy. It will clearly be used as a supplement to gas, it will clearly be used as an alternative to transportation and as a backup source of electricity. I'm pretty curious how fast this will happen.

An important issue today is increasing the resilience of networks to adverse natural phenomena. Most recently, we saw the consequences of a large flood in Germany. Earlier similar incidents in other countries and on the territory of Russia took place. How does CIGRE work in this direction?

I would say this is one of the areas where CIGRE is very active. What happened in Germany is occurring in other regions as well. Over the past 20 years we have seen many similar events and their consequences. Sometimes it is wind, sometimes it is fire, as we saw in Greece, Australia or even California, where you lose your entire network, and the task to restore it quickly becomes a real problem.

Therefore, when planning and securing the network, it is obvious that we must include certain disaster recovery capabilities. It may be in software, when it becomes possible to isolate certain parts of the network and switch to intact sections. It may be also in the design of some sections of the network so that it can resist destruction. Nevertheless, it is difficult to protect the network from everything at the same time.

Cable lines are structurally less susceptible to floods and fires, but in regions with high seismic activity, they may be less reliable than overhead transmission lines. It is also important to properly protect transformers and switchgears. There is no universal recipe. Solutions for each region may be different and CIGRE is actively working to improve them.

I would like to note one more aspect. Today, all power grid companies are concerned with reducing network maintenance costs. Almost everywhere a course to move from periodic scheduled repairs to repairs based on technical conditions has been taken. From an economic point of view, this is the correct approach. However, from the point of view of strengthening the network and creating a certain stability margin in it, such methods do not work. As a result, the network is working at the limit of its technical capabilities and somehow this can become a trap for future development, taking into account reliability requirements.

Currently, due to the development of social networks, electronic media and other means of communication, as well as the availability of information via the Internet, an increasing number of different stakeholders and organizations are trying to influence policy in general, energy policy and technical policy in the field of power industry in particular. How does CIGRE organize its work in these changing conditions?

Today in CIGRE all decisions and opinions formed in the organization are the product of teamwork. As a rule, an obvious problem is a matter of discussion and development of solutions. Its solution is of interest to most specialists. In this case, a working group including representatives of different countries is created. This working group forms a decision or document that is adopted throughout the world. Such a format of work, in our opinion, practically excludes any influence on the result of any prejudices, lobbyism or commercial interests.

This is the value of CIGRE. CIGRE does not lobby for anyone's interests. And if lobbyists get into the structure of the organization, then their proposals pass through the evaluation prism of many specialists who do not have such interest. As a result, only solutions that really work for common goals, and not for the profit of individuals and organizations can pass.

We are more an engineering organization rather than a market influencer. Of course, we also want regulators to be part of CIGRE so that technicians can share our knowledge and views with them, which would undoubtedly enrich both communities.

Speaking about electronic communications, we are also changing the way we work as these technologies evolve.

In previous years, CIGRE worked a lot in full-time format. People from different regions and different countries flew a lot, got together for work and this had its advantages. They got to know each other better, exchanged experiences. With the pandemic, as well as rising travel costs and improved digital communication tools, we are using more and more electronic tools to conduct our own meetings and to manage the organization. This does not promote the closeness it used to be, but on the other hand, it allows us to organize more meetings to exchange views and experiences, and also allows people who may not have been able to afford flight to participate in such events. To some extent, this will democratize our work.

So, what technologies and principles will become defining in the power system in the near future?

Technologies that provide fault tolerance and efficiency will be defining in the future. First of all, existing components improvements and DC transmission systems development.

More and more transactions appear in interaction with consumers. It will be necessary to track these transactions at a high speed and in an open and transparent way. Accordingly, appropriate technologies will be seriously developed to guarantee access to data and transactions for all market participants.

Thank you very much for such a fruitful and interesting conversation!

The interview was published in the ELECTRIC POWER. Transmission and Distribution journal # 4(67), July August 2021. Table of contents

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