Software Applications Poised for Growth in the Smart Grid

Intermittent renewables, energy storage, and management and analytics software applications are a triad of synergistic technologies.  Synergy happens when two or more things combined produce more than their separate efforts could produce.  The combination of these three technologies can deliver more reliable electricity and improve the flexibility and resiliency of transmission and distribution grids that have integrated significant numbers of renewables and energy storage assets.   

The Smart Grid Dictionary defines the Smart Grid as:  A bi-directional electric and communication network that improves the reliability, security, and efficiency of the electric system for small- to large-scale generation, transmission, distribution, and storage.  It includes software and hardware applications for dynamic, integrated, and interoperable optimization of electric system operations, maintenance, and planning; distributed energy resources interconnection and integration; and feedback and controls at the consumer level.  Emphasis is deliberately placed on software applications to highlight the tremendous potential that management and analytics software holds in this synergistic technology triad.   For instance, realtime monitoring of solar arrays – whether in distributed, small kilowatt rooftop installations or utility-scale (large megawatt) deployments can produce vast amounts of data about voltage and currents.  Software applications can use this data to optimize management of these assets in the field.  Transmission or distribution network operations managers could also see the exact amounts of power flowing from these renewable sources of energy, and react to fluctuations caused by weather, component failures, and planned maintenance.   These reactions could include realtime, software-based control of energy storage assets that could inject the required amounts of power to eliminate fluctuations in bulk power or distribution grids.  The energy storage assets can supplement power for limited or extended time frames, involving flywheels, pumped hydro, or zinc air batteries, just to name a few of the technology options coming into the market.

However, the reliance that the Smart Grid places on clean and distributed renewables requires some fundamental changes in our thinking about grid operations.  Grid management can become more decentralized with distributed software intelligence and business rules based on analytics automating decisions to modulate transmission and distribution grids with much more granularity than currently practiced with today’s technologies and techniques.  Automated decision-making through established operational business rules and realtime analytics would help ensure the reliability of transmission and distribution grids.  This means that as coal-burning generation plants are retired, these reliable but dirty sources of power can be replaced with clean renewables coupled with energy storage that can guarantee similar expectations of consistent power.  

Beyond these ongoing grid management activities in operations centers, data can be analyzed to determine component performance in renewable sites.  Analytics reports can identify if certain inverters or feeders are out of compliance with negotiated Service Level Agreement (SLA) metrics so that asset owners could take corrective actions with contractors.  Analytics will also play key roles in simulations and modeling of various scenarios.  What if a wind generation facility experiences an unusual amount of wind gusts?  What impacts could a wildfire trigger in power generation output from nearby solar facilities – how much energy storage should be configured to ensure reliable power flows?  These scenarios can be simulated and operational responses can be documented and automated with relevant business rules and processes. 

There are many other intriguing possibilities for software applications in the Smart Grid, and these will help the electrical system evolve into a much more distributed and dynamic collection of networks and assets.  It’s time for software developers to consider how they can leverage the synergies of renewables generation, energy storage, and software and accelerate Smart Grid deployments.