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How Europe can say goodbye to gas and lead the way in renewable energy

Author : Matthew Hawkridge, Ovarro

12 May 2022

As the war continues in Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced contingency plans for the EU to “get rid of the dependency on Russian gas and go deep into the renewables.” Here, Matthew Hawkridge, Chief Technology Officer at Ovarro, explains why remote telemetry units (RTUs) and advanced software can help diversify the EU’s energy sources and suppliers.

Europe’s plans, as outlined by President von der Leyen, will include sourcing liquified natural gas (LNG) from alternative “reliable suppliers,” plus a renewed focus on diversification into renewable energy sources and hydrogen. 

Alternative energy sources like wind, wave, marine, hydro, biomass and solar are on the rise. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewable energy contributed to 29 percent of electricity generation in 2020, an increase from 27 percent the previous year. During the same time, hydropower produced more than half of the world’s renewable energy (57.8 percent). Wind contributed 21.4 percent, and solar 11.4 percent. So, aside from the situation with Russia, energy grid operators and managers must be ready for renewables.

However, managing these renewable energy sources presents its own challenges. 

More sources, more problems

Sources like solar run on low- or medium-voltages and their behaviour is unpredictable. Because the sun shines at certain times, solar panels feed energy back into to the grid periodically, which can lead to potential instabilities and disruptions.
The unpredictability is also changing the energy distribution landscape. The traditional top-down structure of one producer serving many customers is now shifting towards a dynamic where energy is being fed back and forth while usage peaks and troughs. If supply and demand don’t align, it can lead to a higher rate of power loss or unavailability incidents which, for grid operators, incur heavy fines or reputational losses. 

Conventional remote monitoring systems are expensive and ill-suited to the task of properly interpreting this fluctuating performance data, because they tend to be based on a standard template. Any changes to drives and operating systems can be time-consuming, difficult to implement and too inflexible to handle the unpredictable behaviours of renewable energy sources. 

Instead, operators need flexible remote monitoring systems that are proven in their capability to detect and manage unpredictable energy sources.

Chain of cables 

From a hardware perspective, RTU systems are the most obvious solution. For years, RTUs have been used in energy grids to capture, store and interpret vast amounts of data from physical assets in the network, including traditional natural gas resources. 

One example is Distrigas, the leading gas provider in Belgium, which relies on Ovarro’s TBox LT2 RTUs to provide information on gas volumes at 550 outstations throughout its network. Each TBox connects to the existing meter, to a turbine giving pulses, and a pressure and temperature transducer.
RTUs will also be essential for tomorrow’s smart grids. Smart grids rely on monitoring equipment to collect data and analyse it, and this information being used to predict problems or identify them quickly once they occur. To this end, RTUs help grid operators take preventative or remedial action against unavailability incidents.

However, it can also be said that an electricity grid is like a chain of cables. A failure in one link means the whole chain doesn’t work. That’s why Ovarro offers remote monitoring and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems designed for distribution grids, including the Datawatt Smart Grid (DSG) series that provides flexibility and maximum security in the water, energy and industrial markets. The DSG series is designed to be flexible, which means a variety of protocols can be implemented in real-time including IEC104, COAP and Modbus. Other protocols are available on request. 

Go deep into renewables

In smart grids, it should be possible to identify and isolate the fault location automatically, and switch gear remotely, so that customers are supplied with energy from another part of the grid. That was the requirement of Juva, an energy network management company that, with the grid operator Westland Infra, works on distribution automation of a 25 to 30 square kilometres smart grid in Westland, the Netherlands.

Juva noticed that the low-voltage solar panels of various households in a neighbourhood were not equally distributed over the three-phase grid. In another instance, a wire in the cable was overloaded due to high levels of sunlight. It was also difficult to monitor and identify instances of illegal power use. A flexible solution was needed to detect these unique instances, and the customer’s existing hardware made it difficult to detect instances of illegal energy use.

The DSG RTUs collect and manage data, before making it available to other systems for processing and analysing. Juva is now able to control its grid with higher levels of productivity, energy-efficiency, security and an improved quality of service (QoS). It now plans to expand its smart grid and the number of substations beyond the 250 it currently monitors.

As well as RTUs, Ovarro assembles cabinets that include a combination of its own products and third-party hardware. The result is a complete solution that’s quick and easy to install in the field, an improvement over traditional systems that are difficult to implement.

Access to data makes grids smart. Therefore, RTUs and SCADA systems are the building blocks of modern smart grids, collecting and analysing the large amounts of process data necessary for faster, and better, decision making. 

As the EU comes to rely more heavily on renewable energy generation, more effective distribution management will become essential. Automation offers one solution, with RTUs like the DSG series able to collect, analyse and act on data produced by low- and medium-voltage energy sources. These technologies can help Europe, in the words of President von der Leyen, “go deep into the renewables.”

To learn more about Ovarro’s remote telemetry and control technology solutions for smart grids, visit its website.

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