Smart Grids: Opportunities, Developments, and Trends (Green Energy and Technology)

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Depending on the type of unbundling, legal or ownership unbundling has effects on the possible benefits that the DSO could transfer to the retailer associated company. When the DSO is only administratively or legally unbundled i.

In this case the smart grid investments by the network company might implicitly benefit other companies in the same holding, creating a competitive advantage towards other retailers. On the other hand, under full ownership unbundling, the DSO and the generation company are separate firms that are strictly separated with respect to the ownership of the assets. The allocation of smart grid benefits would provide clear benefits which could be transparently allocated to the actors providing added value. However, the business model for the network operators and other monopolistic entities depends heavily on the applicable regulation.

Due to the fact that the electricity network is monopolistic by nature, electricity transport remains a regulated utility. There are different ways in which regulators can settle the remuneration for regulated companies. Alternatively, with rate of return or cost of service regulation, CAPEX can be more easily recovered if the regulator deems such investment as prudent. If such smart grid investments require CAPEX for example, the installation of smart meters , this can p. However, many smart grid investments not only involve CAPEX but also OPEX, for example with the procurement of flexibility in real-time operations of the network to delay network expansions.

On the other hand, under incentive regulation as applied elsewhere for integrated distribution companies, incentives might exist to reduce OPEX, for which smart grids might or might not help. In order to motivate the sector to contribute to sustainability objectives, policy makers could provide in appropriate financial instruments to motivate investments in smart grids. Policy could be defined strictly top-down, bottom-up, or in a hybrid model both top-down and bottom-up and could indicate whether lower policy levels have less or more freedom and power in defining their own strategies.

In some places, certain aspects of the smart grid, for example the smart meter, could be legally enforced by law top-down , or this could be left to the interests of the utilities involved and the consumers. In the EU in general a hybrid approach can be observed due to the settlement of top-down binding targets for example the objectives for sustainability. The principle of subsidiarity, however, implies that member states are free to develop their own energy strategies and implement them in the most appropriate way bottom-up. In the US, where federal funding is available for smart metering the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of , utilities still have the freedom to decide whether to use this possibility or not, presenting a bottom-up approach for actual implementation.

By contrast, in China, a top-down approach is applied, with the state grid company depending entirely on the policy directions given for the roll-out of smart grids. In the US, policy interest in the smart grid arose due to frequent electricity interruptions in , acting as a driver for innovation in the electricity sector Lin, Yang, and Shyua Later, in December , the concept of the p.

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As described in this policy report, this modernized grid would have a range of features. Thirty of the largest utilities in the US have fully deployed smart meters to their customers. The states of California and Texas are leading with the penetration of smart meters. Some utilities have included the possibility of alternative pricing programmes or even including a larger smart grid vision with in-home energy management systems and displays in New York and Wisconsin Edison Foundation Unlike in Europe, the US electricity sector is mostly structured by the integrated utility model and most residential consumers are contracted with their municipality utility.

Therefore the penetration of smart metering is carried out in most states through centralized roll-outs, probably due to the high rate of integrated utilities which have a monopoly position to do so. For those customers typically an initial fee and a monthly opt-out fee are required.

Alongside the emphasis on reliability in many smart meter roll-outs, a large range of projects involve experimentation with different smart grid technologies. Furthermore, the US presents a range of micro grid projects, in which electricity, heat, and gas supply can be locally managed DOE Micro grids are grids that incorporate IT to coordinate local production with consumption and eventually enable operations in both disconnected and connected mode.

The main motives for those projects are reliability and energy independence especially in cases of severe weather events Bower et al. Most utilities, however, continue with smart metering investments, due to the CAPEX nature of those investments and the possibility of receiving a return on investment, but leave out the further smart grid vision with a participative end-user.

There is no interest in this due to the reduced income for utilities given the nature of current regulation in many places cost of service or rate of return regulation. Net metering results in overall reduction of energy sales and recovering the costs of fixed assets by utilities is being jeopardized Eid et al.

Therefore, utilities are currently focusing on the addition of or increase in fixed charges to make up for such costs.


In contrast to the US, the European system has not faced significant reliability problems. The main drivers for transition were described as the need for new directions to cope with secure and sustainable electricity supplies in the future. The European Commission set a target for 80 per cent of European households to be equipped with a smart meter by , if the roll-out of smart meters is assessed positively European Union Since, in many places in Europe, parts of the network soon need replacement, DSOs are interested in options to delay the need for network investments.

However, the economic rationale is totally dependent on the regulatory scheme that is in place for recovering costs for both CAPEX and OPEX related expenses for smart grids. This is not the investment rationale of the DSO and therefore is not supported by European regulation. As the DSO is a meant to be a market facilitator in a retail competition model, providing non-discriminatory third-party access to the grid, current legislation limits the DSO to procuring flexibility rather than investing in grid reinforcements.

The motive for installing smart meters in Sweden was the legal requirement to provide monthly invoices based on actual meter readings from onwards Bartusch et al. However, currently the Swedish DSOs provide time-of-use tariff options in order to shift consumption from peak hours to off-peak hours Bartusch et al.

In Italy, the electricity producer Enel initiated smart-meter roll-out in , initially to reduce non-technical losses KEMA b. More recently, ENEL has also set out a path to move from the roll-out of smart meters to a demand response market platform.

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  4. Furthermore, the Netherlands has been presenting different interesting cases of smart grid pilot projects since From those projects it is visible that the unbundling of the DSO from the traditional supply chain might lead to different hurdles for coordination between network capacity limitations and demand response programmes. Chinese energy policy has focused on growth of the electricity sector in order to keep up with the surge in electricity demand. At the same time, policy efforts have focused on sustainability to reduce emissions and the negative p.

    In this context, the Chinese government has acknowledged the importance of smart grids in its twelfth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development. The report explicitly sets up the goal of accelerating smart grid developments. In line with this policy focus power companies in China, especially the grid operators and academic institutions, are actively promoting their views on smart grids and developing, testing, and deploying smart grid technologies Brunekreeft et al. Chinese transmission and distribution are under the monopoly of one of the two state-owned enterprises.

    The National Development Reform Commission sets the price by which the monopolies can sell their electricity by means of rate of return regulation. By the end of , more than 30 million smart meters had been installed in China. This was completed through unified bidding processes set up by the two state grid enterprises. Furthermore, the ambitious renewable targets in China have stimulated investments in wind and solar power. The grid is required to be upgraded rapidly in order to handle electricity flows coming from such intermittent production units.

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    China is currently the number one installer of wind power capacity, and number two, after the US, in wind power production. Reduced capacity factors have been attributed to high amounts of forced curtailment, which reached as high as 50 per cent in some regions in Davidson The inflexible planning processes that gave preference to incumbent generators, combined with the volatile nature of production from renewable sources, had disadvantaged wind production Davidson ; Paulson Institute Furthermore, most wind, solar, and coal electricity generation is located in the north and far west of China and most electricity consumption is located in the east.

    Due to this distance between supply and demand, large transmission lines are planned and under construction to connect generation units with consumption locations. Recently, high levels of investment have been made in the transmission network for ultra-high voltage UHV lines. With China being the only country to deploy UHV technology on a large scale, its investment efforts support the international position of Chinese UHV technologies in gaining global market share Paulson Institute In Chinese terms, the smart grid involves a broad portfolio of information and communication technologies.

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    This also includes modern grid technologies such as UHV transmission grids or heat-resistant wires. Consequently, p. The two state-owned Chinese network companies have invested very highly in transmission network upgrades. Due to their monopolistic nature and their close connection with policy, objectives and directives can be directly implemented in a top-down manner.

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    Currently, different pilot projects in distribution networks are operational, with one of the most important projects being EV pilot projects. Out of all these cities, Shenzhen had the most ambitious plan, that is to deploy 9, EVs, followed by Beijing and Shanghai with 5, and 4, EVs respectively. Shenzhen, known as the pilot project city of China, has one of the largest EV fleets in the world. Shenzhen will be the first city to successfully complete attempts to liberalize sectors Li et al.

    Due to the overcrowded nature of some cities, the government has set maximum quotas on car ownership, but there are no restrictions for EV owners, making EVs an attractive option for potential car owners. However, there remains a problem with regard to sufficient access to charging stations. Furthermore, the National Energy Administration is planning 30 micro grid demonstrations as outlined in the renewable energy development plan.

    The authors of this chapter have provided an overview of developments of smart grids within different policy contexts. We defined three main causes of political—economic tensions with smart grid developments in the US, Europe, and China, namely industry structure, regulatory models , and the impact of energy policy. Firstly, the industry structure defines what actors are involved in the electricity supply chain, ranging from a single state-owned utility to a regulated network operator with multiple retailers whom compete for their share of customers.

    Secondly, the regulatory model impacts how the utility is motivated to invest in smart grid assets, or not, depending on the way its costs are being recovered. Thirdly, the impact of energy policy can differ depending on how energy policy is set in legislation and at what level this is done. In the past, reliability issues have been the major factor for the development of the initial smart grid. However, after the installation of smart meters, in most places utilities are not interested in investments for a holistic smart grid vision, simply because the regulation does not incentivize them to do so.

    With their focus on cost recovery, the current emphasis is on how to handle the reduction in energy sales due to the high penetration of Solar PV with net-metering practices, and the connection of other distributed energy resources.

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    The situation is different in Europe where the industry structure is retail competition-based with incentive regulation. It is not clear if investments in smart grids are being recovered where they are being restricted by the regulatory framework. In Europe, the policy interest in smart grids began in order to help reach the highly ambitious sustainability objectives.

    The European Energy directive sets a binding target regarding smart metering if it is assessed that the roll-out would be positive, but member states are still allowed to set up their own roadmaps to reach an overall 80 per cent target of smart metering in European Union Consequently, in both Europe and the US a holistic view of smart grids could be hampered due to the fact that generally operational expenses with smart grids will increase, but the regulatory scheme does normally not cover those expenses.

    In China, the surge of the national electricity demand has been the driving force for smart grid policies. The two electricity state-owned enterprises in China have direct links with policy and depending on the stated policy directions by the National Energy Administration, smart grid projects can be approved and implemented in a relatively rapid manner. Most smart grid projects involve electric vehicle pilots and micro grids which are directly managed by the utility.

    The quick approach that China has taken results in a large-scale smart grids development, including smart metering, smart distribution networks, numerous micro grids, and EV pilot projects. The EU and the US have formulated policies related to the roll-out of smart metering. However, smart grid investments do not yet primarily focus on sustainability targets.

    A holistic smart grid vision would open up possibilities for increased bottom-up participation and better integration of DER at low voltage levels and local energy management. However, due to the traditional regulatory funding schemes for utilities and DSOs involved in those places, the operational expenses for the activation of local flexibility are currently not equally supported. Furthermore, the cooperation models between actors p. It is therefore recommended that regulators allow smart grid investments to remain outside of the regulatory framework.

    This should not only be the case for smart grid capital expenses, but also for smart grid operational expenses in order to support smart grid developments beyond the installation of smart meters.

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    At the same time, the regulatory institution should be aware of the possibility for excessive benefits that can result from smart grid developments and should specify new indicators for utility regulation within the smart grid context.