Impact of Technology on Infrastructure Areas: Energy
Technology trends are driving distributed energy, decarbonisation and smart grid management in order to meet the critical requirements of economic viability, sustainability and reliability.
Smart Grids and the increasing importance of digital infrastructure
Smart grids are advanced, digital infrastructures with two-way capabilities for communicating information, controlling equipment and distributing energy capabilities to make energy infrastructure more reliable and stable. The key focus is to enable more efficient use of the network infrastructure. One of the key differentiating factors of a smart system is the data fidelity associated with it. With better sensing and communication capability, the amount of data generated and transferred could be extremely high. The Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Sensing technologies, as well as other technologies such as Blockchain, enable the Smart Grids concept. Photonics is the key enabling technology for both IoT and advanced sensing.
The ACCESS project on Mull – funded through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP) – aims to lay the foundations for a cost-effective platform for enabling real time matching of local electricity generation with local electricity demand at a distribution network level.
Big Data and Artificial Intelligence can also significantly improve overall energy infrastructure efficiency by real-time data analysis and new control algorithms. These technologies enable assessment of environmental conditions, such as sun or wind intensity and can help address the unpredictability of renewable energy supply by matching and managing supply, demand and storage.
Through 5G Infrastructure, Scotland’s energy sector demand for reliable and secure data exchange will be addressed. One of the major benefits of 5G is its reduction in latency (delay in data transmission) which means it can be used in data critical areas such as autonomous vehicles. It can also support low power, low cost applications such as ubiquitous sensing applications e.g. throughout the distribution grid. Combined with Cyber Security, this can enable faster and safer network connections. This is why there is a convergence of energy, telecommunications and IT supply systems to enable more integrated and secure solutions.
Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology (DLT), where every node in the distributed peer-to-peer computer network maintains its own record of a transaction, eliminating the requirement for a trusted third party. In decentralized energy, this can enable a peer-to-peer energy trading network.
Scottish and Sothern Energy and Scottish Power are working on a Street2Grid project, led by Aston University, aimed at developing an electricity blockchain platform for peer-to-peer energy trading.
Growing renewable energy generation & storage and the rise of Decentralised Generation
Distributed generation (DG) produces energy by utilising various decentralised conventional and renewable energy sources. It involves energy sources often located closer to the consumer and dispersed geographically, ranging between a few kilowatts and approximately 10 to 50 MW. Decentralised production of energy (either conventional or renewable) can contribute to overall lower energy costs, particularly in areas with little or no spare grid capacity. The Scottish government has provided long-term funding for the development of local energy systems through a number of initiatives, such as the Renewable Energy Investment Fund and the Local Energy Challenge Fund. Up to £20m funding will be allocated in 2018-19 to invest in renewable and low carbon energy solutions.
As Renewable Energy generation increases in Scotland, so does the need for Energy Storage infrastructure projects to mitigate the problem of unpredictability associated with renewables. Due to this, energy storage will be an integral part of the transition to renewable energy. A 2017 report published by National Grid forecasts that energy storage will increase by up to 30 GW by 2050. Hydrogen fuel cells are also being developed to provide energy network stability. Projects such as Orkney’s Surf ‘n’ Turf and BIG HIT supported by the Scottish Government, generate hydrogen from renewable energy and make use of it in fuel cells.
According to the National Grid, the adoption of Electric Vehicles is likely to accelerate the uptake of renewable energy generation, as the electrification of transport will increase electricity demand and new electricity capacity will increasingly come from renewables. Home charging points that are to be set up could have the option to install solar panels to complement clean transport with a clean source of energy charging.
A low carbon economy based on Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS)
The aim of Carbon Capture and Storage is to prevent greenhouse gas (GHG) entry into the atmosphere by capturing, compressing and injecting CO2 into deep underground rock formations. The UK currently has one CCS project in the feasibility stage - Acorn CCS and Hydrogen project, a low-cost, low-risk carbon capture and storage project, situated on the north east coast of Scotland. It aims to use relatively small initial quantities of CO2 to quickly establish a low-cost opportunity to commission large scale CO2 transport and storage infrastructure that can support much larger volumes in the future. In June 2018, Acorn CCS became the first carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) project in Europe to have been awarded funding from the European Commission’s Connecting Europe Facilities (CEF) fund. The project could be operational by the early 2020s.
Material and automation advances will help reduce operational costs
Advanced materials such as nanocoatings are key enablers for the development of photovoltaics, smart sensors, efficient carbon capture and storage and energy storage technologies. Robotics and automation technologies can also bring significant benefits in reduced maintenance costs and improved worker safety, especially in energy distribution, via inspection and monitoring of power lines for condition assessment. Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) in partnership with Williams Advanced Engineering Ltd is developing robots for high-voltage power line inspections.
Heriot Watt University leads a consortium delivering the £36m ‘ORCA Hub’ project (‘Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets’) which will develop robotics and AI technologies for use in extreme and unpredictable environments. Examples of use include for the inspection, repair, maintenance and certification of offshore energy platforms and assets.
Managing energy in an era of climate change and adverse weather
Using Artificial Intelligence and predictive analytics, combined with advanced sensors, IoT, Big Data and Cloud Computing, allows for analysis of historical data to predict upcoming events. For instance, in energy infrastructure, transmission lines can be designed within the limits of their capability in relation to historical air temperatures analysis. In the construction sector, bridges can be designed to withstand the requisite amount of flow rates. Another example is tunnels and bridges equipped with storm-water systems in cities with significant storm risks.
Smart Grids will become increasingly important since energy infrastructure based on Distributed Generation and Renewable Energy, such as photovoltaics and wind energy, is highly dependant on the climate and weather conditions. The smart grid concept (an advanced, digital infrastructure with two-way capabilities for communicating information, controlling equipment and distributing energy) can make energy systems and infrastructure more reliable and stable. The Scottish Government is planning to deploy smart energy infrastructure projects, including smart grids, in remote areas. For instance, the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme’s Fair Isle project includes storage of clean energy sources to provide round-the-clock energy solutions to residents.
Moving forwards, using renewable energy and developing a low carbon economy will also support mitigation of climate change by lowering GHG emissions.
Implications for energy infrastructure investment
- With the increased integration of renewable energy into the grid system, there is an increased use of inter-connectors and changes to the design of the grid system.
- The move towards a smart grid opens the system up to cyber security risks. As energy systems become more interconnected, the need for investment in enhanced physical and cyber security will grow.
- Interoperability and common standards are key to Smart Grids. Making sure that energy systems are truly interoperable is a basic building block of smart energy solutions. A focus on open systems (open to all or many vendor solutions) as opposed to closed systems (only open to one or a few vendor solutions) is important.
- Since renewable energy sources fluctuate, co-operation and management of a wide range of power generating assets is required.
- New residential developments could incorporate distributed energy storage and system capabilities; and include the provision of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
- All new buildings (residential, commercial, industrial) could be designed as Zero Energy Buildings, where energy generation and storage capacity are an integral part of the overall smart energy solution to achieve carbon reduction.
- There will be a need for the right skills investments for energy management systems (including in AI, data analytics and technology capability). There will be demand for Hydrogen pipe system maintenance, as well as Fuel Cell technology management skills.
Key 5-year perspectives
- The Internet of Things (IoT) together with smart sensors are already being incorporated by utilities, for example Scottish energy supplier SSEN implements these technologies for remote control and outage prevention on the Isle of Skye.
- 4G enables connectivity, but the 5G network will be a key enabler for fast and reliable data exchange and remote decisions. Satellite communication will be used to fill in any gaps in connectivity.
- Skills in big data, cyber security and communications are required.
- Self-healing materials can be applied to prevent pipe and cable damage.
Key 30-year perspectives
- Significant changes will be seen in the implementation of distributed energy concepts. For example, more locally produced energy from renewable sources, both onshore and offshore, will be seen; energy storage solutions will be increasingly widespread; and hydrogen fuel cells will be implemented as an alternative energy storage.
- Robots and automation technologies, combined with AI, can be incorporated for predictive maintenance and repair applications, for example in pipe maintenance.
- Blockchain could experience mainstream adoption across Europe for continental peer-to-peer energy trading by 2050.
- Efficient renewable energy storage technologies will be deployed.
- Carbon Capture and Storage are currently at a very early pilot stage of activity. Larger-scale commercial deployment will take place over the thirty year period.
Implications for inclusive growth and the transition to a low carbon economy
- Deploying renewable energy will help to meet carbon emissions reduction targets, meet energy demands and help to keep consumer costs low - playing a role in reducing levels of fuel poverty.
- Renewable and distributed energy adoption will generate prosumer- based business models. This could enable lower cost/no cost energy generation for residential and commercial consumers.
- Rural communities could create an energy surplus, due to land/sea access for renewable energy generation, which could generate new revenue streams, using blockchain technology for secure transactions.
- Use of renewable energy for charging electric vehicles supports sustainable, low carbon transport.