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The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » November 29, 2012
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Smart Grid, Smart Region
November 29, 2012   
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Until recently, the word “smart” was only used in reference to people. But due to the technological revolution during the last half-century, today we also have smart buildings, plants, and even power grids.

Without smart power grids, the world could face an unprecedented blackout in the future. Today the average power outage per user is 50-100 minutes annually in the United States, Japan and Western Europe; in Poland it is 500-600 minutes.

A break in the supply of power is not only about discomfort. Some time ago, a 10-minute power cut in New York cost around $6 billion. All around the world, huge amounts of money are flowing from both private and public coffers on innovation and technological development in the energy sector. By 2015, some $200 billion will be spent worldwide on a variety of “smart” solutions. In Europe, a wide range of investment projects, including those involving the generation, transmission and distribution of power as well as storage and consumption and grid management, will consume anywhere from $60 billion to $80 billion.

More than 50 percent of all “smart” grid projects are for demonstration and development; most of these projects are pilot projects.

In one notable example, Polish energy group Energa from Gdańsk is reaping the first fruits of a long-term project called “A Smart Hel Peninsula.” The project covers electricity meters and medium-voltage grid automatics. “Smart meters” allow two-way communication with customers, giving them access to their power consumption data and consequently enabling them to make decisions on the level of power consumption and the amount of electricity bills paid.

The first stage of the project is coming to an end: it has involved the installation of over 100,000 smart meters on the Hel Peninsula, in the towns of Władysławowo and Puck as well as in Kalisz and Drawsko Pomorskie. In the second stage, more than half a million new meters will be installed.

Another aspect of the project involves the use of power from what are called distributed sources.

“We already have specific solutions that will enhance the possibility of connecting wind farms to the grid, without cost-intensive investment projects,” says Rafał Czyżewski, CEO of the Energa-Operator company, part of the Energa group. “We want to go further by carrying out the Smart Lab Pomerania project. We want to work with companies, universities and innovators to enhance the existing grid infrastructure with solutions that will improve the reliability of the grid and the quality of the electricity supplied and will offer new services to customers. Consequently, our vision is not only about smart grids, but also about a smart region.”

The so-called innovation triangle is a project co-financed with zl.70 million in funds secured by Energa from the National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR). Scientific support comes from the Gdańsk division of the Warsaw-based Institute of Power Engineering, which will work with Energa in research and in the development of smart grids.

The experts involved in the “innovation triangle” are sharing their expertise and experience with a working group responsible for smart grid deployments in the European Union. At the end of 2011, Czyżewski and the NCBiR’s Hanna Sroczyńska became the new Polish energy sector professionals to join teams working as part of the European Industrial Initiatives. They work there alongside Krzysztof Madajewski, director of the Gdańsk division of the Institute of Power Engineering.

Japan’s Chugoku Electric Power Co., Inc. also took advantage of the experience of the Gdańsk experts last year, as part of an intergovernmental agreement designed to benefit the Japanese New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The joint research project showed that modern electronic solutions in distribution networks can be used to hook up distributed sources to the grid.

There are almost 300 wind farms with a total capacity of over 1,000 MW in northern Poland. Plans provide for the production of a further 5,000 MW.

Studies show that the number of distributed energy sources connected to the grid can be increased by up to 50 percent without having to expand the grid. “This is very good news,” says Czyżewski. “The Polish-Japanese collaboration is designed to make use of specific smart grid technologies; this will make it possible to better manage the available power resources and increase the energy safety margin for the 2.5 million households and more than 300,000 companies we serve.”

The challenges faced by the energy sector, especially companies dealing with the transmission and distribution of electricity, also involve the reliability and quality of supplies, energy security and a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. This means the need to improve energy efficiency and develop renewable, distributed energy sources.

Prof. Jerzy Buzek, former president of the European Parliament, said in March 2011 that “in the EU it’s said somewhat dryly that our most important source of energy is energy efficiency.”

This also applies to Poland. In 2016, the Polish system will find itself in a situation in which the demand for energy will be increasing at a faster rate than production capacity, experts say. One of the priorities is therefore to embark on projects involving various types of technical and tariff solutions designed to increase the tendency to save energy among consumers.

“We are on the cusp of seeing major changes,” says Czyżewski. “The revolution has started and it has already influenced the way in which the grid functions.” This is related to the new model of energy production based on a growing share of distributed and renewable sources.

Renewable energy sources, mainly wind farms, already account for more than half of the 2,500-3,000 MW of the power passing through the grid. In five years, the figure is expected to be five times higher. The structure of electricity generation is changing fast, posing a major challenge for grid infrastructure in order to adapt it to electricity generated from renewable sources.

To increase the efficiency of power generation through the use of renewable sources it is also necessary to develop technology related to electricity storage. A smart grid is not only about technology. It also requires users to be active and take advantage of innovative technical solutions resulting from investment in the development of information and communication technologies.

According to Bartosz Wojszczyk, Ph.D., director for smart grid technology development at Energa, investment projects based on modifying grid infrastructure must be accompanied by a change in the business model pursued by energy companies. The latter will stop being owners of the infrastructure and become portfolio managers and service providers instead. Consumers provided with a better choice of services and the possibility of using electricity in an intelligent way will become not only users, but partners. This will help create new jobs and new businesses. A smart grid also guarantees reliability and the fast connection of new customers, helping increase the investment appeal of a region.

Czyżewski and Wojszczyk agree that a smart grid by itself will not guarantee benefits in the distribution of electricity. However, it lays the foundation for the creation of new services, new energy production methods and new solutions for improving energy efficiency.

Paweł Orłowski, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Regional Development, says the debate on smart grids is an opportunity to address a number of important issues.

According to Wojszczyk, “it is necessary to invest in new technologies to make it possible to save energy and manage it in a better way. We must find funds for the development of technologies ready for immediate use. And a smart grid is the answer to this challenge.” Wojszczyk says that smart grids should solve system problems in a complex way and allow the creation of technological innovation, functionality and application of new solutions in many places.

“These technologies cannot be purchased anywhere,” Wojszczyk says. “They are still being developed in different parts of the world. Many projects are being carried out on a small scale. The question is how to create a synergy effect in the province, region or country.”

Smart grids are largely about the regionalization of technology, building partner-like relations with R&D and scientific institutions, and the involvement of local authorities and institutions.
Adam Grzybowski
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