ABB’s digital lead, Susan Peterson-Sturm, believes that re-examining our energy systems is essential to ensure that the grid network moves with the speedy pace of the energy market.
Scotland, which is rich in wind power, often produces more energy than is required, resulting in the National Grid requesting that wind farms power down at times of low need.
Without adequate storage solutions at the present time, Scotland is often paying subsidies to wind farms when they’re producing no energy at all, but Ms Petersen-Sturm thinks there may be a digital solution on the horizon.
She said: “It’s crazy. Look at industrial plants. You can actually change the power factor on a drive for grid support. So I think that with everything we’re seeing right now [in digital technology], we’re looking and saying ‘you’re not only a source of demand but actually you could help us firm up supply’.
“We have to take a second look at a lot of our equipment in energy in terms of processes and say ‘what else could we do?’ It’s like finding five euros in your pocket when you’re washing your pants, we’ve got all this additional capacity we weren’t aware of.”
As ABB’s head of digital technology, Ms Petersen-Sturm’s job means that she’s constantly looking at ways to solve energy problems.
For countries with the same issues as Scotland, she thinks that virtual power pools may be a way forward, a system where power distribution is aggregated to enhance power generation and supply.
She said: “I you take a concept like virtual power pools and you’re optimising between loads then you can reduce and optimise. You can say: we need this much primary frequency control so basically ramp up or down, and there’s different assets that can fill that, like hydro, etc.
“We have to take a portfolio approach. There’s a tonne that we can do with digital technology to ensure that when wind is dying down or solar is dying down then we can ramp up thermal capacity in an efficient way.”
As the renewable energy marketplace grows, Ms Petersen-Sturm also believes that understanding capacity through forecasting data is essential if companies and countries are to maximise the renewables resource and grid capacity.
Digital technology offers the opportunity for countries like Scotland to see where adjustments can be made and potentially improved upon.
Ms Petersen-Sturm said: “The way that our systems have been dimensioned for reliability are for big chunks of capacity. So it makes it incredibly difficult for smaller players to play in those power markets. The forecasting data has got so much better.
“An old boss of mine used to run the trading floor at Xcel Energy ten years ago, and when all the wind came on his life was a nightmare because wind forecasting is very site specific, so when they first started they didn’t have very good data sets, so that’s really improved thanks to data.”