About a year ago, we asked whether Scotland could be a dominant force in smart grid. The answer is not yet -- but it still could be.
The country has an ambitious goal to have 100 percent of its energy capable of being provided by renewables by 2020. If that level of penetration is reached, the grid will need to be able to handle dynamic conditions brought on by intermittent power sources such as offshore wind and solar.
To help accelerate a smarter, more flexible grid, Scotland recently launched a power networks demonstration center at the University of Strathclyde. The goal is not just to test emerging technology, but also to help commercialize and deploy smart grid technologies across the United Kingdom and Europe.
“In order to de-risk all the new technologies, they required a test bed,” Iliana Portugues, director of the Power Networks Demonstration Centre, said of the need of the center for both utilities and technologies. The center is already booked through the end of this year.
The PNDC is modeled after the U.K. grid, with at least one piece of equipment present in the network that would be found on the larger grid. Currently, voltage and current are only measured in one phase on the U.K. grid, even though it is mostly a three-phase power grid. By not understanding how the three phases might be out of balance, “there’s a lack of visibility,” said Portugues.
Not only will PNDC test technologies that can help balance the grid and provide visibility into all the phases, it will also ensure that different hardware or software can communicate with legacy systems seamlessly. The center will even go one step further and help evaluate the cost/benefit of different technologies -- such as various communications networks -- for different applications.
The efforts have already attracted some big-name partners, including Schneider Electric, General Electric, Alstom, ScottishPower Energy Networks, Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Funding Council. Portugues said there are about 17 projects that will take them through the end of the year. She noted about 20 percent of the companies interested in testing at the center are from Scotland.
“This concentration of activity is acting as a catalyst for both attracting inward investment into Scotland and in creating the right environment for our own companies to take advantage of growth opportunities,” Lena Wilson, chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, said in a statement.
The United Kingdom’s deregulated utility market, which is incentivized toward a low-carbon economy and rewarded for better utilization of assets, is well positioned to be a leader in deploying smart grid technologies. Not only will PNDC be helpful for utilities and vendors, but it should also be a showcase for consumers on how power can be produced and delivered in the 21st century. “It will be great for educating the customer,” said Mike Edmonds, vice president of strategic solutions at S&C.
For successful pilots that are not already commercialized, PNDC will also try to accelerate the process of finding commercialization partners. “We want to be a center of neutrality,” said Portugues. “We really branch across the entire supply chain.”
Currently, the projects are mostly on the transmission or distribution circuits, although there could be a smart house concept tested in the future.
Portugues also noted that the center is looking for companies that have been successful in other sectors with technologies that could be modified to be a fit for the changing utility industry.
“One belief shared amongst all our founders is that this change, along with all the uncertainty and discomfort, really does bring opportunity,” said Portugues. “Our aim, as a group, is not to accept change passively, but to lead it and to manage it creatively.”