As more intelligent devices crowd into the smart-grid network, the ability of supporting technologies to optimize end-to-end system efficiency becomes vital.
In this modern-day industrial revolution of power and energy, efficiency stands firmly in the spotlight of research and development. Highlighting its importance as perhaps the most critical aspect in the ongoing transformation of existing power systems, efficiency is now often considered an energy resource. For advanced power systems, efficiency comes in several shapes and forms, many of which span far beyond the classical definition of “output-over-input.” However, the benefits of various types of power-system efficiency are all the same and equally important to facilitating grid transformation.
An efficient power system is one that maximizes supply, optimizes transmission and distribution, manages consumption, mitigates faults and disturbances, promotes resiliency, guarantees safety, and ensures consistent availability. Treating efficiency as a dynamic, optimizable subcomponent of power systems is the key to economizing sustainable, reliable, and modernized energy infrastructures. As such, pioneers in today’s power and energy industries share a common fundamental objective: Create new technologies that promote a more intelligent and ubiquitously efficient power network, better known simply as the “smart grid.”
Pioneering a Smarter Grid
“Smart grid” is a broad terminology that continues to evolve with the culmination and synergy of various interdependent technological efforts. These include renewable energy integration, power decentralization (i.e., microgrids, distributed generation), battery energy-storage system (BESS) implementation, electric-vehicle (EV) and charging-station deployment, wide-area monitoring, and digital communication to drive autonomous energy management and control systems.
While this short list hardly scratches the surface of the technology behind grid modernization, one common theme exemplifies the goal of its innovation at the highest level—optimization. How can we get more with less? How can we identify and prevent issues before they happen? How can we deliver the right amount of power at exactly the right time? Ultimately, how can we maximize the benefits of new energy technologies to create more economical power systems?
Regardless of how the conceptual smart grid is realized in terms of technology, optimization of system efficiency and power utilization unfailingly drives the rationale for innovation. Integral to this notion is the effort to extract the most out of a power system’s available resources through proper control and coordination of various technologies over the entire value chain of electricity, from generation-to-consumption. This is essential to maximizing functionality and minimizing costs of sustainable power systems.
Solar Power: The Poster Child for Optimizing Sustainable Power Systems
Paving the way for smart-grid realization is the evolution of technology surrounding grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) systems, or solar power. As the fastest growing segment of electric power generation in the world, solar has become the primary distributed energy resource (DER) subject to innovation for end-to-end optimization.
The heart of a PV system is its power conversion system (PCS), which acts as a controllable gateway for power flow. PCSs and their interoperability with the grid and other interconnected devices have become the focal point of undertakings to optimize efficiency at different levels within the electricity value chain: generation, transmission/distribution, and consumption. Thus, examples of efficiency-driven innovation surrounding PCSs, such as those of PV systems, are vast and diverse.
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