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Global | 4 Oct 2022

Digitalisation of the electric grid as a guarantee of a sustainable future

Digitalisation, electricity and sustainability are unrelated terms in themselves which, with the contribution of technology, knowledge and experience, form a symbiosis that is necessary to overcome the challenges we face.
Few of us are unaware that we are undergoing a deep and ambitious change of the energy model; a process that is not only revolutionary but also necessary to protect the environment and the well-being of people, as set out in the framework of the Green Deal. This major European pact aims to adapt EU climate, energy, transport and taxation policies to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels ("Fit for 55" package), with the ultimate goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.
The massive participation of renewable sources in electricity generation, the irruption of the electric vehicle as a transport alternative to combustion engines and the growing development of energy storage as a complement associated with renewable production are fundamental to achieving the sustainability objectives established at European level. Likewise, the grid codes defined to be able to connect these new technologies to the electricity system, the evolution of regulation and the increasing participation of consumers in demand management are challenging the electrical grid and demanding its technological adaptation, both at the level of grid assets and in its own management.
A system with more and more players and such technical complexity requires a smart grid that supports the integration and active management of all of them. In the context of the electrical distribution network, digitalisation basically consists of obtaining data from this network and from the different equipment installed, and managing them in a digital, computerised way. Based on this information, on the one hand, the grid is controlled in real time by the Distribution System Operator (DSO) while, on the other hand, this volume of information feeds certain grid management applications (status estimators, predictive maintenance, monitoring and supervision of components, remote parameterisation, remote updating of firmware of digital equipment, etc.). To enable this digital reality, a whole infrastructure of components is needed, ranging from precision sensors to read the different electrical parameters, to different intelligent electronic equipment (IEDs and RTUs) that receive and process the information, as well as a local and remote cyber-secure communication system with the operating offices of the electric utility company.
This digital infrastructure is essential for the electrical grid to be flexible enough to efficiently integrate distributed generation systems and the incipient demand aggregation models (V2G, etc.). We are facing a scenario where the automation of the equipment installed in the electrical grid is essential. If we want a truly flexible grid, we need to have more points with the possibility of remote supervision and operation, both in the medium voltage grid (automated cubicles) and in the low voltage grid (supervised and automated low voltage boards), as well as distribution transformers with on-load regulation capacity that guarantee compliance with the voltage level defined by current regulations at the consumption points (AMI meters).
Thanks to digitalisation, we are moving towards a smart grid that is fully monitored in real time, with better supply quality indexes, increasingly flexible, more participative, with greater integration of generation sources and distributed storage, with increased capacity to actively manage demand, remotely configurable and cybersecure.
In short, the digitalisation of the grid is a key tool for electrifying the economy and advancing in the energy transition towards an environmentally sustainable model based on renewable energy sources. The challenge we face is undoubtedly huge, but it is also an opportunity to ensure the sustainability of our planet.

Jose María Torres.
Head of Smart Grids Ormazabal