The COVID-19 pandemic has created limited impact to renewable energy, which is expected to continue to grow in the long term, and the tenacity of power grids has been constantly elevating in order to respond to the growing trend of green energy. IEK Consulting of the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) has pointed out that the pandemic has allowed electricity companies to implement advanced acceptance on the achievements of smart power grids, where the latter are also required to think about the optimal method in escalating the ratio of renewable energy.
The ITRI is hosting the “Seminar of Prospecting Into the Industrial Development Trends for 2021” between October 26th and 30th to probe into the post-pandemic impact for each industry. Looking at the status of global energy, the pandemic has derived temporal yet tangible impact to the energy industry, where the global demand for energy and electricity has been reduced by 5.5% and 5% respectively in 2020, which also induced a decline in the investment of energy. According to the World Energy Outlook announced by the International Energy Agency, the investment on energy and fossil fuels has been reduced by 18% and 30% respectively this year.
The renewable energy market also possesses a high degree of uncertainty in the short term as the current implementation of renewable energy is primarily dependent on the demonstration and subsidy from the government of each country, and the introduction of various alleviation measures and infrastructure expansion projects during the post-pandemic era is bound to impact the energy policy. Lin Chi-hsun, Chief of IEK Consulting, ITRI, commented that the study of Energy Policy Tracker shows that a total of US$393 billion was used in transportation, construction, electricity, and mining amongst G20, though renewable energy merely occupied 30% at US$145 billion.
However, the investment on smart power grids will be exceedingly amplified in the medium to long term, which is derived from how the pandemic has substantially influenced people’s living habits, whereas the promotion of telecommuting and the implementation of stay-at-home orders have elevated the ratio of household electricity usage, and the electricity usage for large enterprises and SME businesses has also decreased, thus the load curve during work days is almost identical to that of holidays. Huang Ya-chi, senior researcher of the Energy Research Department at the IEK Consulting of ITRI, commented that power dispatching will be affected if the model of power grid isn’t altered.
Power dispatching has become more difficult as the ratio of power generation from renewable energy increases. The instantaneous penetration rate of renewable energy in Italy, Belgium, Austria, and Germany has been evidently elevated compared to 2019. As pointed out by Huang, the reduction of load and the escalation of power generation from renewable energy may lead to system congestion and deviation in voltage and frequency.
Take South Australia as an example, although rooftop solar is able to provide enormous electricity, and even achieve 100% electricity supply within a short period of time, the incessantly increasing rooftop solar will generate risks for the power grid. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is currently drafting on how to suspend the rooftop solar of users under “extreme” circumstances.
It is rather arduous for electricity companies to preserve capacity without the instantaneous information and the volume of power generation of renewable energy, thus an elevation in the stability of power grids not only requires an improvement in the response speed of traditional thermal power stations, and a precise prediction on the power generation volume of renewable energy, but also needs to take into account the electricity usage subsequent to the accentuating popularization of electric vehicles and electricity liberalization, and future power systems will have to resolve challenges coming from decentralization, carbon reduction, and liberalization. Huang pointed out that the application of Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIOT) will be of help in increasing the elasticity of power dispatching, facilitating integration of renewable energy, as well as enhancing power grid management and lowering the need of manpower.
Energy and electricity is a cross-domain and cross-functional issue nonetheless. Looking at the regulation side, smart power grids lack specifications and market designs, where network security and privacy is also an important factor. Pertaining to the installation aspect, the investment on extensive installations of sensors and information & communication equipment is exceedingly high yet comes with insignificant effectiveness, which lacks incentives and creates setbacks to the development of smart power grids.
(Cover photo source: Flickr/Panegyrics of Granovetter CC BY-SA 2.0)