These days, everything has to be smart. From smart microwaves to smart cars, we are inundated with technologies that promise to make our lives easier. Terms such as smart battery and smart grid also come up in the energy world. But what does the term smart grid really mean in practice? Is it simply a trendy term or does it offer real solutions to current problems such as grid congestion and energy management? In this article, I tell you all about smart batteries and smart grids and tell you how "smart" we can really be in the future.

Smart battery versus smart grid

With grid congestion and grid operators having to sell “no,” more and more companies are forced to implement their own solutions to meet the increasing demand for or generation of power. Flight to batteries has become almost a given in a year.

But a battery as hardware alone is not enough. It is necessary to have control software to tell the battery when to charge and when to discharge. And then do you choose a smart battery or a smart grid?

What do we mean by smart?

These days we are inundated with smart devices. Typically, this means that a device can perform actions that we were previously accustomed to doing ourselves.

Unfortunately, there is no intelligence test for smart devices. Siemens is selling a smart microwave, which in practice means nothing more than being able to control it via your phone.

If there was an IQ test for this device, it would not exceed 5. You can quietly cremate your meal on setting max without the microwave noticing that your meal has long passed the required temperature.

Smart charging station turned out to be a stupid decision

For example, a smart charging station can measure how much power is still available and allocate it to the charging station. This prevents you from going over your limit.

The other day I was with an entrepreneur to talk about smart grid. His company had an urgent power shortage and had already gone over its contract limit once. He wanted to install charging stations for his employees who started driving electric.

They sold him ten smart charging stations, but his employees complained that their cars were not charging. A good analysis with our software could have saved him the high expectations of these smart charging stations.

How smart is a smart battery?

More and more hardware vendors are selling smart software with their products, including battery vendors. Again, it is important to pay close attention to exactly what is meant by smart. Increasingly, we see battery suppliers offering an (unnecessary) amount of excess capacity. If we then look at the smart software offered, it appears that this software works the same as the smart charging station.

With batteries, we call this peak shaving, and it works as follows: at low consumption (often at night), the battery is charged and at high consumption (often during the day), the shortfall in power is made up by the battery so that the company does not go over its contracted power.

An additional 30% battery storage is often offered as a safety margin. Sometimes loading optimization is offered at dynamic prices. In that case, the battery will try to charge when prices are favorable. Again, smart is not always the same as intelligent.

Smart Grid uitgelegd

Multiple resources + multiple strategies = incredible complexity

But what happens when you combine a smart charging station and a smart battery into one network? Or if your electricity network is a bit more complex anyway, such as heat pumps, heat-cooling plants, cogeneration units and a high-consumption electrical production process, or… multiple stakeholders in one network, for example multiple entrepreneurs who want to share a battery in a Group Transmission Agreement (GTO). Or an energy hub?

You’re not going to make it with smart devices

Whether it is a smart charging station or a smart battery, smart devices are not the solution for a power grid with multiple energy processes. What geturn if two or more smart devices are connected in a grid? Will they reinforce each other or get in the way? Who is smarter and why? Do the smart devices take each other into account?

Does one smart device know about the other, and if so, do they coordinate with each other who is doing what? How then? Which devices have priority and why? How do you secure important business processes? How do you ensure that in changing power demand or supply, continuity is maintained, or power is optimally distributed among all resources? There are dozens of issues that require a complex strategy involving two or more controllable energy resources in a network.

Load-shifting as a second strategy to optimize a network

In addition to the well-known peak-shaving, it is also possible to load-shift energy users. By load-shifting, we literally mean “shifting energy consumption over time.” Depending on the device, this can be either forward or backward in time: you can’t charge a truck until it’s plugged in, but you can delay charging. An electric water heater can be heated even before it reaches the set minimum temperature at which it would otherwise turn on.

Loadshifting & peakshaving

Peak-shaving versus load-shifting

In order to load-shift within the limits of what is possible, information is needed from the device and its user so that the shifting of energy consumption can be used as a second strategic option (in addition to peak-shaving) in optimizing an energy network.

But now it gets really complex!

There are numerous processes where large cost savings and emission reductions can be achieved through load-shifting.

As an example, let’s take a heat pump. Without smart control, the heat pump will turn on at will as soon as the buffer tank temperature drops below a certain temperature. The target temperature of the property the heat pump is to heat is 20 degrees.

Adding a margin to the target temperature of, say, +/- 1 degree very quickly creates an opportunity for huge savings by strategically controlling the heat pump over time.

To do this well, advanced machine learning with forecasting (predicting) is a must. Now that this example has been given, what devices offer you opportunities to save costs or solve grid congestion with smart-grid technology? Cooling? Heating? Electric water heaters? Ventilation? Charging poles?

Smart grid the only real solution

Let’s start with the analogy in which we compare a multi-device network to an orchestra. Two experienced musicians can play quite well in harmony, provided they are aware of each other’s existence and they can agree on who does what.

If you want an orchestra to perform optimally, however, you need a conductor. In a power network, it is even more complex. Because while a conductor optimally harmonizes the orchestra with sheet music that does not change, the conductor of a smart grid must also be able to anticipate changes.

Thus, demand and/or supply can suddenly change and a completely new strategy is needed to optimize the new reality.

In a grid, the EMS (energy management system) is the independent conductor.

Not just reacting, but anticipating

The complexity of optimally controlling a grid increases exponentially as there are more devices in a network.

It becomes even more complex when there are multiple stakeholders involved with different interests. Optimizing a dynamicenvironment such as a grid with multiple devices, some of which can “load-shift” and others can “peak-shift” and then also optimized with dynamic rates, is truly top-level chess.

It requires algorithms that can compute quickly, predict and function scalably in dynamic environments.

Powering a smart grid

Not all EMS (energy management system) solutions are suitable for controlling a smart grid. Note! “EMS” is as much a catch-all term as “smart devices.

So you need to know well what the EMS does and does not support. Delve into possible solutions or seek advice from an independent EMS vendor. (Do you want a smart device or a smart grid? Do you want before-the-meter or after-the-meter optimization?)

What is a smart grid EMS?

By a smart grid we mean, “an optimized energy network of multiple resources controlled by an EMS (energy management system). Preferably, the various optimization strategies available (load-shifting as well as peak-shaving) are deployed from a grid viewpoint.

The energy management system that supports this is called a smart grid EMS. If a smart grid has multiple stakeholders, we call it an energy hub.

An energyHub usually involves an energy corporation that establishes agreements on the frameworks the EMS must use for optimization.

Benefits of a smart grid EMS

  • Optimization of the overall network

  • Alignment of smart strategies

  • Highest achievable optimization

  • Suitable for multiple devices

  • Substantial savings on energy costs

  • Saving on hardware purchases
  • Increases the efficiency of existing infrastructure

  • Responds and anticipates any change in the grid

  • Is usually hardware-independent

In conclusion

With the insights from this article, you should now have a clearer picture of what a smart grid is and why it is so crucial to our future.

But words may not yet say everything. To truly understand how these technologies are changing the rules of the game, I invite you to experience the power of smart grids for yourself. Request a demo and see for yourself how “smart” our lives, our energy consumption and our future can be.

Because one thing is certain: the future is smart, and you can be a part of it right now.

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