Step-by-step manual facilitates development of smart grids

29 May 2015

Smart grids promise numerous benefits to electricity systems, like cost savings from efficiency improvements, more customer choice and greater use of renewable energy sources. But as with any innovative technology, designing and implementing smart grids requires meticulous preparation and careful execution. For that, the IEA offers step-by-step instruction in its new How2Guide for Smart Grids in Distribution Networks.

The publication, the second in the How2Guide series after a manual for developing wind power, uses case studies and specific experience gleaned from IEA workshops to explain how best to incorporate cutting-edge monitoring and management into electricity systems. The key message of How2Guide for Smart Grids in Distribution Networks is twofold: advanced technologies can improve overall system efficiency if deployed with the strategic steps outlined; and smart grids can facilitate energy infrastructure that catalyses smart, sustainable urban development.

Smart grids are vital to transform electricity networks into systems that can support the transition to a low-carbon energy system. The technologies involved, all described in the new manual, range from computerised metering that facilitates security and operations to autonomous sensors-based controls for electrical substations.

According to the IEA report Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2015, smart grid investments worldwide rose 5% in 2013 to reach USD 14.9 billion, but despite their potential to address energy system challenges, smart grids are not quickly or easily developed.

To avoid missteps along the way, How2Guide for Smart Grids in Distribution Networks leads industry and government decision makers through four specific but adaptable phases to plan, envision, blueprint and finally implement, monitor and modify smart grids. Each phase is divided into steps, both necessary and optional ones, for optimal deployment. Technical, strategic, regulatory, financial and organisational barriers are described, with possible means to overcome them.

How2Guides – facilitated by the IEA Technology Platform offer countries and regions advice that can be tailored to specific circumstances, and How2Guide for Smart Grids in Distribution shows how smart grid technologies can be implemented effectively in both developed and developing economies with varying levels of grid maturity. In all cases, though, successful development starts with identifying stakeholders and working with them to conduct basic research of existing infrastructure and capacities.

That groundwork leads naturally to the second phase: outlining a deployment vision. Different countries or regions will emphasise different aspects, so the manual not only describes each such driver but categorises the various technological approaches by their relevance to that priority: for instance, automation of substations is a top concern for improving grid reliability but is not usually used to address environmental concerns, while the opposite is largely the case for integrating distributed generation like windmills.

Once the vision is complete, How2Guide for Smart Grids in Distribution Networks advises on how to prepare the project roadmap, or implementation plan, and timetable. Besides describing common barriers and solutions, a detailed table groups the barriers by category (e.g. legal and regulatory or social acceptance and cybersecurity) and cross-references remedial actions. Four case studies offer insights from programmes like an “eco city” smart grid in China and automated meter management in Italy.

The process culminates in implementation, monitoring and revision. Here the new publication offers guidance not just on the technical aspects of putting the plan into action, but also the social, regulatory, customer and financial steps for a  successful roll-out plus how to design metrics to track and improve service.

How2Guide for Smart Grids in Distribution Networks was introduced in Mexico City on 29 May as part of Mexico’s programme to support deployment of smart grids across the country. 

To download How2Guide for Smart Grids in Distribution Networks, click here.