Further electricity hikes from Eskom have many companies rethinking the future of their business. It’s frustrating that something as essential as electricity can be both incredibly unreliable and increasingly expensive.
It’s no wonder that there is so much interest in smart grids and renewable energy sources as South Africans try to temper these issues that nobody seems able to fix.
We’re exploring smart grids in a little more detail. What are the potential benefits and challenges that we need to look out for?
What is a Smart Grid?
The smart grid concept appeared around 20 years ago as a potential successor to aging and unscalable electricity grids. It will certainly be a while before smart grids and renewable energy sources replace these entirely. However, in the meantime, we are seeing an exciting way forward for consumers and businesses.
Smart grids are a digitized and decentralized version of current energy systems. They make use of new technology, diversified energy sources, and new transmission infrastructure.
How do these benefit us?
- Smart grids use integrated sensors which serve to monitor, control, and communicate to various stakeholders. This allows for transparency within the energy supply chain, accurate analytics, and greater reliability.
- Being able to track and monitor energy usage – from homes to businesses – offers the prospect reduced energy consumption, enhanced efficiency, and a reduction of cost. This continuous monitoring means that problems are identified and attended to quickly, thereby increasing the reliability of the system.
- Two-way communication between the power plants (or any other energy source) and the consumer is possible. This data is incredibly useful when generating consumption forecasts with accuracy making for the adaptable production of energy and less waste.
- A two-way flow of electricity is also possible which allows for the use of renewable energy alongside traditional plants using fossil fuels. This pushes us down the road toward cleaner energy sources – if not all the time, at least some of the time. It also increases the availability and reliability of power without leaning too heavily on the current overtaxed and defective coal plants.
The key to the success of smart grids lies in smart meters. With the help of big data and accurate, real-time information, consumers can adapt their energy usage. For example, when demand is low and electricity is cheaper, some may choose this time to use the more energy-intensive appliances in the home.
Likewise, manufacturers can opt to run some of their more energy-heavy equipment during off-peak times, thereby lowering their outgoings with no significant change to their systems.
Smart meters also allow consumers to integrate their own renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, and allow any excess energy to be fed back into the smart grid.
While we have a variety of renewable options available to us, on their own they remain a largely unpredictable resource. However, once tied into a smart grid:
- Consumers can realistically use less electricity due to smart monitoring
- Power suppliers and renewable sources together can supply a balanced energy output
- Excess electricity can be fed back into the grid reducing waste
- Maintenance on all power production plants can be improved by sharing the load between multiple producers and allowing for necessary downtime
- CO2 emissions can realistically be reduced to historic lows and positively affect climate change
The solution to the energy crisis is two-fold. We need to develop and make use of more sustainable resources while at the same time, reduce our energy requirements as much as we can.
Smart Grid Security
The word “smart” tells us immediately that we are dealing with IoT-connected devices. All devices in this chain, from the solar panels on our roof to the smart meters and everything in between, must be securely connected to benefit from this incredible innovation.
Yes, the key point here is security.
With the integration of so many elements, the potential for fraud and serious security breaches is very real.
An article from the Thales Group has this to say:
“A critical element for energy stakeholders is to make sure that the assets they produce or manage are well protected and that their security can evolve,” says Willem Strabbing, Managing Director at the European Association of Smart Energy Solution Providers (ESMIG).
“We mean assets which are implemented for long periods – often more than ten years – and that are appealing for hackers to modify consumption information, to get access to private data, or to cause critical damage on global grids.
“In this context, governments or regulators are calling for specific protection protocols that could be based on strong encryption and authentication tools, protecting devices, and enabling proper security updates.”
We all want the benefits associated with smart grids, but we also need to tread carefully. New automations need to be introduced sensibly and with due caution, ensuring that each connected device and digital identity is as secure as it can be.
The fact is that fossil fuels are not the answer to the world’s energy crisis. They have done their job up until now, but there needs to be a concerted shift away from unsustainable and polluting energy. Smart grids are the way forward, being a reliable, cost-effective, and eco-friendly solution.
If you require secure data connectivity, whatever the application you’re using, please contact Huge Connect. We will care for all your connectivity requirements while you manage your business.