Grid-edge ‘explosion’ driving a second system transition
Image: Getty.

An “explosion” in the number of devices connected at the end of the grid is driving a second transition and new demand for tech solutions.

Speaking to Current±, Vera Silva, CTO at General Electric’s Grid Solutions arm, said that while software solutions had been pivotal in facilitating the proliferation of renewables to date, claiming that “the road that took us here might not take us there”.

“Until now, in countries that have high renewables, quite a lot of improvement has been done using better software and implementing grid automation and controls.

“That has squeezed more capacity and allowed grids to operate closer to real time. That’s the first transition we’ve seen.

“[But] then there’s a next stage. You need to invest in infrastructure, at some stage just investing in software is not enough,” she said.

Silva pointed towards the UK and Ireland as being particularly prescient examples of markets where high penetration of renewables has forced network operators into action.

The UK in particular has seen the number of generators soar from 90 to more than a million, driven by rocketing numbers of domestic solar installations and other small-scale renewables, with energy storage cited as the next technology to deploy at scale.

While this has created significant technical challenges by changing the physical properties of systems – inertia for one is radically reducing – that explosion in technology at the grid-edge has provided operators with a “huge opportunity” to bolster their management capabilities.

This is occurring firstly through more efficient management systems and then through new technologies.

“First you try to do everything you can with digital, but at the same time you install equipment,” Silva said.

The goal, she added, was to transition from reactive management, through to predictive and then finally end up in an autonomous management function.