The futuristic world of smart grids

25th July 2019
Gary Dolton
Head of Power & Water

We all know that electricity is fundamental to both modern society and the economy, yet most of the world relies on an archaic electricity system, designed more than 50 years ago. The traditional one-way system has only ever met user demand but never provided feedback on efficient or cost effective use.

We know there is a need for a more reliable, efficient and clean energy system, one that can adapt to change and make more informed decisions, and we know that technology is capable of thinking for itself, thanks to the internet-of-things, big data and automation – so how has our changing world responded?

Behold: The Smart Grid.

What is a smart grid?
Smart grids are an intelligent and digitised electricity demand network that holds two-way dialogue of real-time information between the source and the consumer – detecting and reacting to local changes in usage. In contrast to our rigid and passive conventional systems, these grids are proactive, intuitive and intentional in their integration of information, telecommunication, and power technology. Smart grids simultaneously facilitate consumer choice, smooth out demand patterns, and reduce emissions.

Smart grids give sustainability a front-row seat in the economic, social, and environmental future of our modern world.

What a smart grid can do: 

  1. Provide reliable information on power usage – helping customers manage their electricity bills.
  2. Feedback excess power to the grid for re-use.
  3. Reduce unrequired electricity use at critical times.
  4. Store power to meet peak-hour consumption.
  5. Monitor and respond to electricity fluctuations, caused by storms or sudden changes in demand, by rerouting or restoring power delivery.
  6. Use unpredictable wind and solar energy sources to optimise energy input, creating virtual power stations. 

What does this mean for us as consumers?
Well, for starters, empowering us to have a direct say over our energy usage will make our electricity bills significantly smaller. Research says that, when we know how much we are using, we reduce our energy use by up to 10% and save up to 25% on energy bills by choosing the time of energy consumption. As individuals, we will be able to enjoy the comfort of knowing that our homes and workplaces are working for us in the most optimal and costefficient way whilst supporting our environment and meeting our expectations. 

Impact on the industry
On an industry level, lower costs mean more capital for other investment opportunities
. In the Middle East alone, the smart grid market is expected to grow to $1.68bn by 2026, and up to $10bn of infrastructure investment could be saved through its use. This means retail, hospitality and entertainment developers can spend less on the operational side of things, and increase their focus on user experience. Residential developers are empowered to integrate customisable features within their designs; features that facilitate user participation and customer satisfaction, making them unique and competitive in the market.

How do service providers benefit? Smart grid potential has already been recognised throughout the Middle East; In the UAE, the public Abu Dhabi and Dubai water and electricity companies, ADWEA and DEWA, are planning to implement smart grids not only for customers but also to support their operations. If utilities and power sources can better speak to each other, companies like ADWEA and DEWA can improve efficiency, decrease operational costs, and free up capital that can be re-invested into innovation and developing ideas.

The beginning of the journey
We have a long way to go to truly reap the rewards of smart grids
, but we have made a start. Dubai has already installed its first smart grid station in Al Ruwayya, which enables better energy distribution and has been integrated with smart city systems for office buildings and factories. It uses over 2000 sensors and meters to improve energy and water management. Dubai is not alone in investing in smart cities, Abu Dhabi has installed its first pilot smart meters, Kuwait is developing roadmaps to roll out smart grid initiatives for the instalment of 1.1 million meters, Oman launched its Automatic Meter Reading operations, and the Saudi Electricity Company plans to install 12 million smart meters by 2025, leading to an expected total smart grid market of $3.6bn by 2030.

So, if smart grids are partly here already, what can we expect in the future?  

Technology revolutionising energy
As one could have guessed, there is no bad news – the continuously-evolving intelligence of the smart grid is outstanding. The use of big data analytics could one day feed more detailed information to the already-intelligent grid to make more complex and intuitive decisions. What if our grids knew which months of the year we were away from home, and redirected unused household energy to provide for low-income communities? Decentralisation and digitalisation could one day mean that virtual power could be stored on a cloud which is accessible to anyone. What if I could charge my phone with an app, or borrow my neighbour’s electricity using a virtual platform? Advancements in technology could one day revolutionise the limits of energy as we know it.

If we anticipate the use of smart grids now, then we could be looking at a future where smart energy powers entire continents, ultimately to the benefit of all our communities.

And with the use of technology and electrical items only set to rise, surely embracing smart grids now will only help us to thrive in the future?