Dr Lawrence Jones, Policy and Regulatory Affairs Director at ALSTOM Grid Inc and a member of the company’s Smart Grid Global Business Development Team, is based in the United States but regularly meets with executives and policymakers around the world to promote the benefits of smart grids and their role as engines for growth in clean energy.

Dr Jones recently visited Australia on his way to present at the New Zealand Wind Energy Conference 2012 on the future outlook for the grid integration of renewables.

Speaking with EcoGeneration, Dr Jones says that he believes the next step in the process for greater integration is to focus on modernising electricity infrastructure in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

“The entire electricity network from the generation side to the consumer side needs to be modernised, and that modernisation process – for generation, transmission, distribution or on the consumer side – involves deploying different types of technology,” Dr Jones explains

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“The benefits will be felt in different sectors of the grid; some technologies will bring benefits to the transmission grid in terms of reduction of transmission losses, other technologies will bring generation efficiency when you start retrofitting existing generation plants with advanced metering technologies.”

Dr Jones’ key message to Australian clean energy companies is to avoid trying to define ‘what a smart grid is’ to members of the general population who are struggling to come to terms with its meaning. Instead, he says, focus on the benefits of modernising the grid overall using smarter technologies, and the benefits of these for consumers and different energy sectors.

Dr Jones believes the Australian energy industry has already taken a lead in implementing smart technology and increasing market management and efficiency.

“On the distribution side, you see more and more technologies for demand response being brought to bear in Australia,” he says.

“Where I think more could be done is being aware that all of the technologies we are deploying will generate a lot of data. How do you leverage all of this data? This is one area where Australia and other countries need really advanced business analytics to be able to process and mine the data to extract information.

“One of the concerns utilities have – especially in the operation of the grid – is that there’s a deluge of data coming in. Unless you can make sense of the data, it’s pretty much a bad investment.”

Dr Jones points to investment in data management tools and advanced application systems as key solutions, and predicts that over the next five to ten years, Australian grids will have high variability as a result of electric vehicle integration, increased renewables and demand response on the consumer side of operations.

“The need for having predicted capabilities in how you operate the system is going to become more and more critical,” Dr Jones elaborates. “More utilities are saying ‘we need to do more’ in terms of investing in existing infrastructure and in an ‘evergreen’ grid.

“You will have a grid with both new and old technology, and one thing a smart grid should be able to do is help you bridge those two elements and help them coexist so as to maintain standards and make the best use of pre-existing infrastructure.”

Dr Jones has particular expertise in integrating wind energy into smart grids. Recently, his paper Strategies and Decision Support Systems for Integrating Variable Energy Resources in Control Centres for Reliable Grid Operations demonstrated that, despite huge increases in the installed capacity of wind energy worldwide, the effective integration of a large amount of wind energy into current and future power grids is still a prominent and complex issue for grid operators and regulators.

The report provided utilities with recommendations and examples of success stories for decision support tools, solutions and strategies for integrating greater wind energy in power systems.

“The report clearly indicated that more utilities are interested and open to using industry best practices and examples of excellence from their peers as the starting point for development and deploying their own solutions,” Dr Jones notes.

Some of the key tools outlined by grid control centre operators worldwide included:

  • Wind power forecasting to manage uncertainty and increase predictability
  • Knowledgeable grid operators in control rooms equipped with centralised decision support programs
  • Incorporating forecasts in real-time applications and processes for managing voltage stability, congestion, unit commitment, contingency reserves and more.

Dr Jones says that Australia has already taken up the kinds of wind forecasting systems that assist with high penetration of wind energy in the grid, but that the grid itself must become more intelligent to extend the benefits of forecasting.

“I think you can do that in Australia in a very easy way; you have the information technology sophistication and the knowledge to do it, so I don’t see it as being a barrier at all.

“One of the things that smarter technologies will do is help to address the issue of variability,” Dr Jones continues. “Already we’re beginning to see that when we deploy tools that can anticipate the activities of the system, you’ll be in a much better position to deal with variable generation.

“As you bring clean energy online, the forecasting is not enough – you have to bring the information into your operational processes. Just bringing the raw data to the operators is not of enough use – what’s more important is how the data is integrated into your set of tools.”