Navigant Research Blog

South Korea Draws an Ambitious Roadmap for Smart Grids and Smart Cities

— November 12, 2014

South Korea has ambitions to be a world leader in smart grid technology.  The smart grid test bed on Jeju Island has been the proving ground for the technologies, partnerships, and business models required to achieve this goal.  Led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), South Korea’s national power company, the Jeju Island demonstration project involved a wide range of South Korean and international partners.  The project ran from December 2009 until May 2013, had a total budget of around $240 million, and included two substations, four distribution lines, and 6,000 households.  The sub-projects included power grid upgrades, demand response, electric vehicles (EVs), renewable power integration, and new energy market models.

In this regard, Jeju Island mirrors many other smart grid pilots around the world looking at the integration of multiple technologies and new business models, particularly island community smart grid projects such those in Hawaii and Bornholm.

From Islands to Cities

South Korea is different in that the government has now laid out plans to move beyond its initial demonstration project into a wider series of trials and eventually a national rollout of smart grid technologies.  The next phase will involve a series of eight smart grid/smart community projects, to be run between 2015 and 2017.  More impressively, KEPCO has laid out plans to extend these projects into a series of municipal-scale smart grids by 2020.  The final stage of this grand scheme will see smart grid technologies deployed across the whole country by 2030.

The total budget for the pilot projects is $876 million, around $400 million of which will come from central and local governments and the rest from the private sector.  KEPCO alone is investing $155 million.  The government expects the private sector to take the lead in further development from 2018 onward.  As well as smart meters, an EV charging infrastructure, and energy storage, KEPCO is piloting a smart grid station that will provide sophisticated energy management and grid integration for commercial buildings, beginning with up to 220 KEPCO buildings.  It sees these smart grid stations as building blocks for community energy management systems and city-scale energy management.

Big City Vision

These are ambitious plans, and some of the Korean experts I spoke at Korea Smart Grid Week were skeptical about the ability of the government, KEPCO, and other stakeholders to meet the proposed timescales.  However, even if those timescales prove challenging, the vision and the roadmap are impressive.  I don’t know of any other country that has laid out a plan of this magnitude that would see smart grid technologies deployed across all of its major cities by 2020.  Such an achievement really would mark South Korea out as a world leader in both smart grid and smart city infrastructure.

 

Will the Natural Gas Boom Help EVs?

— November 11, 2014

Natural gas is better used to generate electricity to power electric vehicles (EVs) than as a direct transportation fuel, according to a new study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  The study, entitled “Well-to-wheel analysis of direct and indirect use of natural gas in passenger vehicles,” rates EVs powered by electricity from natural gas as being more energy efficient, less polluting, and cheaper to fuel than natural gas vehicles.

A contributing factor in the analysis is that natural gas power plants, especially combined cycle power plants, are very efficient in creating electricity, and when that electricity is used for locomotion by an electric motor, the net efficiency is higher than that of a natural gas engine.  The study assesses losses and energy used throughout the system, including leaks during transportation (from pipelines etc.), and during compression and decompression of the gas in the case of compressed natural gas vehicles.  In the case of EVs, the study assesses power losses throughout the distribution grid, electric vehicle charging, and the power transfer to and from the battery.

As seen in the figure below, the study concludes that even a low-efficiency natural gas power plant would provide a more energy efficient source of electricity than using gasoline in a car.  The study used the Nissan LEAF and the natural gas Honda Civic GX as the baseline for the vehicle fuel efficiency.

Wheel to Wheel Energy Use

(Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Emissions of greenhouse gases, including CO2, are also lower in the case of EVs when either the current mix of generation sources or any type of natural gas power plant are used to create the electricity.  And as is well known, electricity is also cheaper as a transportation fuel: Oak Ridge estimated at time of the study that natural gas costs $1.65 per 25 miles for compressed natural gas vehicles, compared to $1.02 for electricity.

Pipeline Peril

It may seem counter intuitive that an extra step in fuel conversion (i.e., gas to electricity) would still be more efficient, but the greater efficiency of stationary gas turbines relative to small engines (as referenced here by Forbes) explains the math.

However, turning natural gas into electricity for EVs requires sufficient pipeline capacity, and a surge of EVs could overwhelm the regional grid if charging occurs at peak times.  Natural gas also has to compete with other forms of generation on price, and there’s no guarantee that the surplus of natural gas from shale would find its way into EVs, as it may simply replace coal.

The study makes the case for facilities that have combined heat and power to add EVs to the fleet instead of adding the significant cost of a natural gas refueling station.  Conversely, a significant argument for natural gas vehicles is their longer driving range and lower upfront cost.  If an EV’s driving range of 80 to 100 miles doesn’t match with the driving requirements, then the economics or efficiencies won’t matter.

 

Wireless Power Promises New Capabilities for Smart Buildings

— November 11, 2014

Power_Paddle_webIn the science fiction universe, transmitting power over great distances is remarkably easy.  A shield generator could be placed on, say, the forest moon of Endor and beam its power to an orbiting space station.  Lamentably, in the real world, such extensive wireless power transfer remains elusive.  But, 2015 is poised to be a pivotal year in wireless power.

Current wireless power solutions focus on charging mobile phones and electric vehicles, and both are gaining momentum.  On the mobile phone front, the first commercially available products based on the Alliance for Wireless Power’s Rezense standard will soon hit the market, while the Wireless Power Consortium’s competing Qi standard continues to expand around the globe.

In the auto industry, wireless technology represents the future of plug-in electric vehicles and could be a factory option as early as 2017.

Smart Building Applications

The promise of wireless power extends beyond these early adopter markets — particularly in smart buildings.  The proliferation of the Internet of Things in buildings is currently hindered by limitations in power and communication capabilities.  University of Washington professors Joshua Smith and Shyam Gollakota have an innovative approach to tackling both problems wirelessly.  The two have started Jiva Wireless to develop the solution and plan on taking a leave of absence in 2015 to focus on bringing products to market as early as 2016.

Their approach is to harvest ambient energy in the form of Wi-Fi, TV, and cellular transitions.  As detailed in Navigant Research’s report, Energy Harvesting, these types of systems are already gaining traction in a variety of applications.  What’s novel about the Jiva Wireless approach is the use of ambient backscatter communication, which selectively absorbs and reflects radio frequency (RF) signals, effectively combining power and communication into one function.

Landscape Without Wires

The launch of Jiva Wireless adds to an already crowded field of wireless power solutions.  Many of these solutions, as promising as they may be, have yet to make it to the real world.   Funding of these companies does not appear to be a challenge, though.  Energous, a company developing a wireless power solution using radio waves, raised $24 million in an initial public offering in March, despite not having a commercially available product.  Similarly, uBeam, which has a prototype that uses ultrasonic waves to transfer power, just received $10 million in Series A funding, bringing the total amount of capital raised to $12 million.

Wireless power incumbents are shifting, as well.  Duracell, an early adopter of wireless charging for mobile electronics and the pioneer of Powermat technology, is being split from its parent company, Proctor & Gamble, as part of a strategy of divesting non-core businesses.  Meanwhile, JVIS and d-Wired are attempting to resurrect conductive wireless charging by licensing intellectual property from FliCharge.  The shifting landscape of wireless power providers indicates an interesting road ahead in 2015.

 

Massive Outage Highlights Bangladesh Grid’s Fragility

— November 11, 2014

On November 1, the Bangladesh power grid suffered a massive, country-wide blackout, which took well over a day to restore.  Only the most critical or prepared institutions and government agencies that had adequate diesel generation backup power had electricity, while the rest of the 160 million people in the country were totally in the dark.  The power outage brought much of normal life to a standstill, forced hospitals to rely on back-up generators, and even plunged the prime minister’s official residence into darkness.  Meanwhile, the garment industry and other manufacturers that represent 80% of Bangladesh’s exports were idled.

Initial reports suggested that the outage occurred when protective relays tripped at the interconnect substations between the India transmission grid and the Bangladesh transmission grid, where much of Bangladesh’s power is supplied.  While Power Grid of India, the India transmission grid operator, reported that its high-voltage transmission grid was operating normally, the Bangladesh Power Grid on the other side of the substation was down.  This sounds remarkably like the 2003 situation in United States, where much of the Eastern grid suffered an outage.

In the Dark

In my recent research, I have been looking into next-generation technologies and wide-area situational and visualization tools that transmission grid network operators are beginning to deploy to better anticipate and detect critical disturbances of the sort that likely led to this massive outage.  The Bangladesh outage was likely the largest on the Subcontinent since the Indian blackout in 2012, where two severe power outages affected most of northern and eastern India.  The July 31, 2012, India blackout was the largest power outage in world history, reportedly affecting over 620 million people — about 9% of the world’s population.  More than 32 GWof generating capacity went offline during this outage.

In the wake of that failure, the latest 10-year transmission plans in India call for the installation of over 1,300 synchrophasor phasor measurement units (PMUs) and associated analytics installed on India’s high-voltage transmission grid to manage sub-second disturbances.

The scope of the Bangladesh outage is yet to be determined, and it will require extensive transmission grid and generation forensic analysis, using available monitored information from the hours and minutes prior to the outage.  One can only wonder whether these next generation of PMU and synchrophasor analytics technologies, implemented on the Bangladesh side of the interconnected transmission network, could have prevented this crisis.

 

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