Power Technology Research (PTR) had the opportunity to visit CIGRE 2018, held in Paris, France which took place from August 26-31.

During the last CIGRE, PTR had followed four of the key trends: Eco design of equipment; maintenance, refurbishment, and life time; real time monitoring; and development of DC solutions. PTR would again support these to be the most critical trends; however would include Information systems as increasingly important to a new paradigm of electrification in European markets.

Reducing O&M time:

A foundational form of resilience to the grid (N-1) is being rethought as a result of developments in O&M technologies. A solution showcased, a submersible inspection robot (submarine), by ABB called the TXplore, reduces transformer and rectifier maintenance downtime by limiting when oil must be drained from a reservoir. Going a step further, some of these concepts are non-invasive in nature, removing the need to open devices entirely. One example of this is the work being done by GE utilizing X-ray machines to analyze circuit breakers. Citing their work with Morocco’s national utility, the Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable (ONEE).

Fig.1. GE’s X-Ray imaging for grid equipment.

A wave of new products to the arena of ‘Digital Assets’ seeks to mitigate planned maintenance all together by utilizing assets more efficiently. Siemens presented its digital substation at the conference with capability of making raw data from digitally enabled assets into tangible solutions such as automation and power quality. In addition, ABB also showcased its digital power transformer (introduced earlier last April) after it successfully launched a digital distribution transformer last year. This transition of digitally capable assets from distribution products towards high power applications is a clear indication of early success and traction gained by these products from utilities and system operators.

With all of these new components, systems, and measurement techniques, more so than ever is the need for rapidly deployable trainings. PTR believes Virtual Reality (VR) is an excellent way for these techniques to be digested by technicians, operators, and engineers. This obviously requires a step beyond what most are positioning as a product marketing tool and GE has been doing exactly that with specific trainings from GIS bay maintenance to crane operation. Combining with on-site Augmented Reality (AR) should be able to complete the training, improve safety, and further reduce the not only O&M costs but also to design of the systems themselves.

Utility business model changes:

The biggest question remains if the O&M value proposition is relevant for a utility whose primary business model is founded on CAPEX and OPEX. Historically, asset utilization did not completely correlate with profitability; however, if this were to change, as PTR has noticed in de-regulated markets, adoption of these technologies will take off.

This takes us to a core issue on the minds of many DSOs and regulators is how to convert from a pure-regulatory framework of business, to one that utilizes assets to their highest potential. Despite a lot of efforts from the DSOs, EV charging infrastructure ownership business model has tilted towards the competitive market based model. When it comes to the ownership of charging infrastructure, right now a number of stakeholders operate in a competitive landscape (e.g. Charge Point Operators, e-mobility service providers or municipalities). The aspect of EV Infrastructure falling under DSOs remit has not happened with in fact the opposite occurring with Italy’s AEEGSI and the AFI Directive. This trend is not limited to Europe but throughout the world. Only a very few markets (e.g. Greece, Cyprus), where regulatory framework has not been defined yet, DSOs are responsible for installation of publicly accessible charging infrastructure. Regardless of ownership status, DSOs are responsible to upgrade the infrastructure to facilitate installation of high power charging stations.

Relegation to being a pipe operator though may not have to occur with creative approaches to some of the assets a utility already has. Two of these assets are land agreements for land easements as well as the trust of their existing base of customers. With those two assets, a new business model has arisen for power utilities: fiber optic networks. The model is simple whereas business customers like TELCO’s can save significant money by outsourcing network deployment thus paying for network usage. Alternatively, as pointed out by Huawei during the exhibition, a few utilities, like LYSE in Norway, have gone directly to end-users and thus adding another section to their existing bill, for Video services.

61850 + Agility = Cybersecurity:

A high priority, albeit an uncertain-to-execute one, for many utilities is protection of digital assets against attacks in the 61850 era. Relying solely on protocols and standards to be developed will always put an implementing company at risk. This is especially true as these newly created intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) are now interoperable.

Aligning themselves more closely than most to this threat we find Schneider Electric. What was clear from their approach is that a global team is required to always be monitoring for attacking and updating security definitions. Learnings must be translated and fixed implemented quickly to all exposed to these risks. The ownership, but more importantly the value of these systems will need to be accretive to the aforementioned business model; otherwise will only be following the old regulatory landscape. The biggest hurdle for utilities adopting this technology can be read between the lines as what Schneider Electric has done is to apply an Agile methodology to their service offering. This model, established in software but newer to electric utilities, requires a significant overhaul of their operations.

China pushes HVDC R&D:

Both utilities operating in China, State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) and China Southern Grid (CSG) had representation of their R&D focused companies at the conference. PTR has been keeping a close eye on the market developments in high power electronics grid components i.e. High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) and Flexible AC Transmission Systems (FACTS). In the last couple of years, analysis of our global HVDC market tracker, always pointed us towards the Chinese market. Whether it was about breaking through the highest DC transmission voltage barrier or multi-terminal VSC projects , a lot of developments are always coming from China. SGCC and CSG have invested a lot on R&D of HVDC in the past some years. SGCC’s subsidiary Global Energy Interconnection Research Institute focuses on grid technologies such as HVDC, FACTS, DC Grid and power semiconductor devices. Similarly, CSG’s subsidiary Electric Power Research institute (EPRI) has been focusing on new technologies in HVDC such as Hybrid HVDC projects, HVDC transmission system analysis and design platform and UHVDC experiment platform. The upcoming ‘Wu Dong De multi-terminal Hybrid UHVDC’ project is one of its kind where for the first time Voltage Source Converter (VSC) is planned to operate at 800 kV DC. With such fast advancements in the field of HVDC such as meshed DC grids, the focus of one of CIGRE’s study committee (SC-A3) is primarily focusing on the most important aspect in this regards i.e. protection and control of DC grids. HVDC circuit breakers and switchgear are the key areas of interest for the researchers and upcoming HVDC projects in China are studied from application perspective of DC protection devices.

In addition to HVDC, PTR is also keeping a track of advancements happening in FACTS devices such as Static Var Compensator (SVC) and Static Synchronous Condenser (STATCOM). Siemens launched a variant of SVC called Frequency Stabilizer (FS) at the end of last month which combines the traditional functionality of reactive power compensation by SVCs with high power capability of super-capacitors (supplied by Maxwell Technologies). Additionally, Maxwell Technologies has grid scale storage solutions with applications like primary frequency control and power quality.

Event Follow Up:

For any additional questions about the event, or trends in power systems, please feel free to reach out to us.

About CIGRE-Exhibition

Established in 1921 in Paris, France, CIGRE is a global community committed to the collaborative development and sharing of power system expertise. The community features thousands of professionals from over 90 countries and 1250 member organisations, including some of the world’s leading experts.
At its heart are CIGRE’s 59 in country National Committees offering diverse technical perspectives and expertise from every corner of the globe.
CIGRE operates the world’s foremost knowledge programme, spanning 16 domains of work encompassing all the core areas of the power system. Across these domains 250+ Working Groups draw and build on practical expertise to solve existing and future challenges facing the power system

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