Responding To Disruptive Trends In Energy

(Jamaica Observer, 19.Nov.2018) — Energy storage, distributed energy, renewables and electric vehicles powered by a smart grid are among the main disruptive trends in the global energy sector. Advances in technology and a global call to preserve the environment, combined with consumer demand for more reliable, better quality, lower cost energy, are the forces driving the acceleration of these trends. Utilities globally are responding to, and proactively preparing for new opportunities and challenges provided by the disruptive trends in energy.

Modernising the Electricity Grid

One fundamental move by utilities is the creation of the smart, resilient, ‘self-healing’ grid, to deliver more reliable power supply to customers. The traditional grid is generally converted into a smart grid by adding new technologies and equipment that work together to facilitate the two-way flow of electricity and information between the utility and its customers. The two-way flow significantly transforms the energy value chain, with benefits for both the customer and the utility.

Unlike the traditional grid where power flows in one direction from the power plant to consumers, the smart grid facilitates the flow of power in both directions. Through heavy reliance on the synergy of controls, automation and new technological equipment, the smart grid is able to respond digitally to the resulting rapid shift in the demand and supply of electricity.

With the roll-out of the new technology, the utility will ultimately see lower operating costs, greater grid reliability and a reduction in its carbon footprint, while the customer will be the beneficiary of new and exciting services that help them to exercise greater control over their energy usage. These benefits augur well for the future of the energy sector if utilities make the required investments to ‘smarten’ the grid.

Local energy provider JPS has been taking significant steps over the past few years to transform the power grid into a smart system, investing close to US$150 million in smart technology over the last five years. The aim is to create a system where power generation, distribution and consumption are connected in an intelligent, integrated and flexible manner, to provide the most economical and sustainable energy supply, storage and consumption, while promoting a better synergy between energy supply and demand.

This includes the use of devices which detect faults, minimise their impact, and restore power automatically to customers. These smart devices include Smart Meters, Distribution Automation switches, Trip Savers and Fault Circuit Indicators. Customers are already reaping the benefits of JPS’ grid modernisation programme, evidenced mainly by fewer and shorter power outages.

Back-Up Storage to Accommodate More Renewables

The smart grid is the best way forward when incorporating renewable energy sources such as solar and wind into the energy mix. The move to integrate more renewables in the power generation mix is therefore a key driver in the acceleration of the pace at which utilities roll out smart grid technology.

Power companies have very little choice but to invest in the technology needed to facilitate more large-scale adoption of renewable energy and, with it, battery storage. Storage is a key component of the move towards engineering smarter grids focused on delivering improved power quality. JPS has made a bold move in this direction, with an investment of over US$21 million in the construction of an energy storage facility at Hunts Bay in St Andrew, which will help to improve reliability by providing back-up power to address some of the intermittency caused by renewables.

Distributed Generation – A Focus of JPS’ Business Development Team

Another exciting disruption in the energy sector is the advent of Distributed Generation (DG) power plants. This involves power companies setting up smaller traditional power plants near high consumers of electricity. In the process, utilities can creatively make use of the waste heat that is naturally generated when producing power.

Through its Business Development arm, JPS has been working on a number of projects with customers, which involve siting the power generation facility close to, or at the point at where it is being consumed. According to JPS’ Project Consultant Sane Facey, “The power generation facility may be at a customer’s premises in the case of some of the DG projects that we are looking at, or nearby a customer’s facility in the case of others. In both cases, the added benefit is the availability of useful heat to industrial or commercial customers for manufacturing purposes. It is called combined heat and power, and involves harnessing the waste heat from power generation to supply both electricity and useful heat. We capture that waste heat and use it for whatever useful purpose it may serve, such as steam or chilled water production, at or near where the plant is sited.”

Project Coordinator at JPS Sameer Simms adds that Distributed Generation is more operationally efficient. “When you produce the power close to where you have high power demand, you are reducing the losses incurred during the transmission process when the power plant is miles away.”

Moreover, Simms notes that they are using “very efficient generation technology, so the cost of generating a kilowatt-hour of electricity through DG is less than that at a system-wide level right now — they are much more efficient. And they are also greener. We are using LNG fuel for all the projects so far, and LNG is a much cleaner fuel, much better for the environment than oil”.

Notably, these types of projects have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Simms emphasises that “the net effect is that you have way less carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere. They (manufacturers using energy from distributed generation) are helping to reduce the carbon footprint involved in power generation and in the production of goods and services that they provide to their customers”.

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