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As complexity mounts, data can be a lifeline for grid operators

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Out of COP26 came the Green Grids Initiative, with its ambitious vision for “One Sun One World One Grid.” The idea behind this goal is to create a way to “trade energy from sun, wind, and water across borders, so that everyone can have access to clean energy, all the time.”

It's the right vision for our planet. Unfortunately, today’s transmission grid isn’t built for a power sector where centralized baseload generation is replaced with decentralized and intermittent renewable energy. 

The COP26 promise of a world coming together to share green energy won’t happen unless we improve our grid system.

Upgrade the grids to get to green

We can invest all we want in renewables, but if we don’t manage to effectively deliver renewable energy to demand centers and consumers when they need it—and store the rest for later—we risk a lot of wasted energy.

The third point in the One Sun One World One Grid declaration is essential to making this happen:

“Developing and deploying cutting edge techniques and technologies to modernize power systems and support green grids which can integrate billions of rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, and storage systems.”

There are both short-term and long-term implications to this call to action. In the immediate term, until new transmission capacity is built, we must take advantage of the existing, underutilized capacity in the physical transmission system. Then, over the course of the next decade, we must optimize where and how new transmission capacity is built and operated.

Both are big challenges. One key way of solving them is with better use of data and software. 

Smarter grids require better data

Infrastructure upgrades aren’t enough. Now is also the best time to upgrade the data and analytics systems needed to maximize grid reliability and accelerate the transition to a smarter grid. 

We already know that intermittent renewable generation is difficult to forecast. Adding significantly more of this generation type without also improving how we predict available supply is a recipe for inefficiency and new, self-injected risk to the security and quality of the electrical supply. 

How can we use data to better manage existing capacity? It starts with a better data-driven understanding of the physical properties of the transmission spans and the relationships between factors such as weather, time of day, and demand center growth. 

Today, key operational questions about demand and supply take a tremendous amount of time and effort to answer with the right level of detail and confidence. Being able to dynamically identify and activate latent capacity in the transmission network has significant implications for eliminating curtailment and maximizing transmission efficiency. 

We can also lean on big data to plan for the future and how best to deploy new infrastructure. Smarter use of data can help us take the best parts of our existing renewable energy system, simulate and analyze new scenarios, and then plan with pinpoint precision on how to deliver capital projects with the highest impact.

Three must-haves in the reinvention of the power grid

The transmission systems of tomorrow must operate better than the systems we have today. Data and technology will play a massive role in this transition. Embracing digital transformation and mastering rapid technological change is how grid operators can rise to the occasion.

If you’re assembling your roadmap now in light of the Green Grids Initiative, I see three critical concepts to plan for:

  1. Make data available: Leveraging new technologies and methods to integrate all available data from across IT, operations, and engineering functions so that questions about the grid can be answered comprehensively and effortlessly. 

  2. Make data usable: Empowering the ecosystem of new data stakeholders to explore, experiment with, and develop faster using low code and other low-effort methods so that you can drive innovation from every corner of your organization.

  3. Make data valuable: Focusing on creating internal data and analytics products that are reusable, scalable, and sustainable for families of business applications so that your domain knowledge is captured and can be applied at the lowest marginal costs.

Few industries are navigating as complex an environment as the power and utilities industry. For these companies, data is a lifeline for maintaining successful and reliable operations in the journey toward a globally interlinked “green grid” future. 

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