Reactive Technologies reinvents grid communication

National Grid, SSE confirm system works long range

UK-based smart grid and DR gear maker Reactive Technologies demonstrated what it called yesterday a world first in energy communications technology, following a successful nationwide project with National Grid and SSE (formerly Scottish & Southern Energy). The firm reportedly invented a new kind of grid communications technology, called grid data and measurement system (GDMS), that offers cost-effective, long-distance communication with electrical assets or devices connected to an electricity network.

The way GDMS works is that connected devices send and receive data across the electricity network through minute and subtle changes made to the grid frequency by modulating the power consumption of transmitting devices. These "on" and "off" or frequency changes create a unique code. Receivers, embedded in the plugs of devices, such as freezers, hot water tanks and air conditioning equipment, are programmed to detect these frequency changes.

Receiving devices then identify and decode the messages, which automatically tell the device to carry out a particular instruction, for example, to turn down or turn off according to a schedule or based on grid frequency changes, the firm said. GDMS allows for faster, automated responses from assets so they can be used for higher value, system-critical, load-balancing services like frequency response, it added.

"Project Samuel" was the code name for Reactive's demonstration project with National Grid and SSE that started in April of 2014 and ended successfully in March, 2016. UK utility regulator OFGEM funded the project under its Networks Innovation Allowance (NIA) fund, the firm said.

Many assets are excluded from existing DR arrangements due to a lack of remote connectivity, the firm noted, but it believes GDMS can change that. The technology will give electricity-network operators greater insight into the behavior of 'prosumers' – customers who have the ability to generate, consume and store their own electricity, it added.

The data provided by GDMS will provide a clearer picture of how electricity is generated and consumed at the distribution network level. Such information is essential for operators tasked with balancing electricity networks which are becoming increasingly complex with the growing variety of assets connected to them – such as distributed and intermittent generators like solar along with EVs and batteries.

GDMS will let network operators to reduce costs and pass savings on to electricity consumers by improving the accuracy of forecasting models and the purchase of energy reserves, the firm said.

"At National Grid, we are keen to support innovative products like this one that can bring a real benefit for customers," said Cordi O'Hara, director of UK system operator for National Grid, in prepared remarks. "We are proud to be part of this groundbreaking project, which has demonstrated the successful transmission of data through the electricity grid over long distances, critically passing through transformers and with a broad coverage.

"It represents another step forward in the development of the smart grid technologies that are going to play an increasingly important role in the energy systems of the future. National Grid signed up to the scheme as part of its work to support innovative ways to help balance supply and demand and also provide benefits to customers," she added.

"Technology that allows devices to communicate quickly will help encourage 'demand side' solutions that encourage efficient use of energy and will increasingly become part of the way the grid is managed," O'Hara said.

"The European energy industry is turning on its head," said Reactive Technologies CEO Marc Borrett in prepared remarks. "For several years we've witnessed the gradual transformation of the sector from centralized energy generation, which relies heavily on fossil fuels, to a model that will be determined by the three 'Ds:' – de-carbonization, decentralization and digitalization.

"In the past, the energy sector has drawn upon mechanical and electrical engineering skills to meet its technical needs. Now, it is time for change. We are bringing highly innovative communications engineering capabilities to the energy space, offering radically different solutions that can address the critical issues facing our energy networks," he added.

"In GDMS, our communications engineers have invented a truly disruptive technology which has the potential to benefit many stakeholders across the energy supply chain. Our thanks go to OFGEM for supporting UK innovation with the Network Innovation Allowance fund, to National Grid for sharing the vision for our GDMS technology, to our partner SSE for helping make the project happen and to our co-founder, Dr Heikki Huomo who originally conceived the GDMS technology concept."

Cutting cost 'dramatically'

"GDMS can dramatically reduce the cost of creating large-scale smart grid networks, allowing wider participation in DSR (demand-side reduction aka DR) programs for example by including domestic devices such as fridges, air conditioning systems and hot water tanks," said Jens Madrian, chief financial officer and chief commercial officer of Reactive, in prepared remarks. "Creating flexible demand is the lowest-cost and carbon-free way of balancing the electricity system which is otherwise managed by turning up or down thermal power plant like diesel generators or gas fired power stations.

"GDMS offers a new, cost-effective way to create flexible demand at scale."

"This exciting project demonstrates how the electricity grid may be used as a safe and secure communications channel," said SSE in prepared remarks. "The challenges we are dealing with in the energy sector are driving the need for new perspectives and transformative technologies. Innovation milestones, such as Reactive's GDMS will help keep the lights on and offer significant cost savings."

Reactive is now focusing on building further partnerships to bring the technology to market in the UK and overseas with parties such as distributed generators, network operators and energy suppliers along with electricity consumers and prosumers, the firm said.



Smart Grid Bulletin February 2019

View all SMART GRID Bulletins click here