Energy Transition — The Need of an Autopilot System for Electric Grids

Due to increasing carbon footprint in the atmosphere and limited availability of fossil fuels, we need to rapidly move towards heavy use of (1) renewables (such as solar and wind) for electricity generation and (2) electric vehicles (EVs) for transportation. However, integrating large amount of renewables and multi-slot EV charging stations in our existing electric grids may lead to the problems of grid safety and power quality (line congestion and over- and under- voltage). So, the immediate challenge in front of us is to tackle the above problems.

One solution is to refurbish the grids but this is often a costly operation and should be avoided if possible. What is the alternative then? An autopilot system for electric grids. Let’s try to understand it with the analogy of car autopilot system. What does the car autopilot do? It follows a given trajectory (takes the car from point A to point B) and avoids accidents during the journey. The job of the grid autopilot system will also be exactly the same. It will steer the controllable resources (batteries, thermal resources, PV, etc.) of the grid it is responsible for to follow a given trajectory at the point of common coupling (PCC) and will avoid accidents (line congestions and over- and under- voltage) while doing so.

In conclusion, we can avoid the costly grid refurbishment by having a grid autopilot system. Of course, for the grid autopilot system to work, it needs controllable resources (energy storage solutions, thermal resources, PV plants) to steer the grid in safe zones. Therefore, before employing the grid autopilot system in a given grid, the first job is to assess the already available flexibility of a given grid (provided by existing controllable resources). If the existing controllable resources do not provide enough flexibility to the grid autopilot system, then, we need to install some additional flexible resources.

GridSteer, an EPFL spin-off, provides such a grid autopilot system and its associated services, i.e., assessing the available flexibility in the grid and if not enough, the size and location where additional controllable (flexible) resources should be added to the grid. At GridSteer, our vision is to avoid the grid refurbishment as we dive into the new era of energy generation and consumption.