For the first time in more than 100 years, the global energy landscape is undergoing a massive transformation. The way we generate, transport, distribute, and consume electricity will change more in the next 10 years than it did in the previous 125. What was once an orderly, monolithic system pushing power out to the people, the electric grid is transforming into a two-way highway of energy from diverse sources — including wind and solar — which present new challenges to grid stability and reliability. At the same time, the industry is challenged to reduce its carbon emissions amid a growing demand for energy. That’s why the industry is moving fast to develop advanced hardware, software, and integrated solutions to tackle the world’s toughest energy problems.
And it’s why this week, the International Council on Large Electric Systems (CIGRE) is hosting its biennial conference in, appropriately, Paris, the City of Light, at the Palais des Congrès. (The pandemic caused the 2020 conference to be canceled.) More than 9,000 energy specialists from around the world, including the leading experts on electric energy, will review more than 950 technical papers spanning the end-to-end power system, and get in-depth insight into the latest power industry trends to help accelerate the energy transition.
“To support this transition while upgrading the grid, which will be needed for the next hundred years, we are working closely with our customers to continue to find ways to make the grid more efficient, stable, resilient and sustainable,” says Vera Silva, chief technology officer at GE Grid Solutions.
GE Renewable Energy’s Grid Solutions business will have a significant presence at CIGRE to spotlight its latest innovations and services as part of the company’s holistic approach to building the grid of the future, with a special emphasis on four of the biggest challenges facing the grid: modernization, decarbonization, digitization, and electrification.
“The grid is aging, so to facilitate growth in demand and utilization, there’s a high need for infrastructure investments,” Silva says. “Modernization is a critical part of our work, especially to make it easier to connect renewables to the grid in order to drive a low-carbon future.”
At CIGRE, GE will be showcasing new solutions to modernize transmission and distribution substations using the latest protection, control, monitoring, and diagnostic technologies, which can help increase grid reliability and extend the life of energy distribution equipment while maximizing performance and minimizing the cost of ownership. For example, GE will showcase the fifth generation of its MiCOM P40 protection relay, which supports the challenges of low-inertia grids with advanced sub-cycle algorithms and adaptive controls to enhance stability while avoiding excessive costly circuit breaker operations.
It will also exhibit two critical software applications that utilize advanced analytics to identify the health and condition of primary equipment: its Perception Fleet software, which helps automate and scale the traditionally one-at-a-time manual process of evaluating the condition of transformers, and its EnergyAPM software, which uses real-time data to monitor substation performance, giving operators the ability to make better decisions about substation management.
SF6 is a potent greenhouse gas that has historically been used in high-voltage equipment, and the electric industry accounts for 80% of SF6 used in the world today. To help eliminate its use, GE is investing in high-voltage equipment that uses its g3 insulating and switching gas, which provides the same insulating and stabilizing properties as SF6. Using g3 results in a 99% decrease in the gas contribution to global warming, and it provides the lowest carbon footprint among all SF6 alternatives.
“We’ve advanced g3 technology from a first-of-its-kind innovation to building it out at an industrial scale and increasing its range,” Silva explains. GE will present its progress in g3 at CIGRE, including its work with intelligent, flexible substations.
To help enable the digital transformation of the electric energy industry, GE will exhibit its new digital control and automation systems, which will help operators deliver energy more efficiently, affordably, and reliably. For example, the company will demonstrate its DS Agile Digital Control System, which helps operators monitor substation activity for improved operation and maintenance.
Renewables and other distributed energy resources continue to be the fastest-growing source of new power generation capacity. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, renewable energy in the United States increased 42% between 2010 and 2020, and is up an even more dramatic 90% between 2000 and 2020.
To show how to integrate renewables into the grid, GE is demonstrating its next-generation VSC valves and control systems for high-voltage DC (HVDC) and flexible AC transmission systems (FACTS), which enable utilities to integrate renewables and move more power further and more efficiently. GE is also demonstrating its latest microgrid and enterprise grid software, including tools that give utilities more visibility into what’s actually happening on the grid in real time, enabling them to better optimize and balance energy resources and loads.
Integrating renewables requires utilities to make faster decisions, so software is evolving to capture the data necessary to better utilize and maintain grid infrastructure. Software will also orchestrate everything across a country or continent, as well as operate substations. “We’re doing a lot of work on observability across the distribution grid,” says Silva. “GE grid software teams play an important role in improving how you actually operate and manage grids that are closer to the customer.”
Drawing on its hundred-plus years of expertise and combining advanced hardware with software and services, GE is delivering innovative solutions that will help customers modernize the grid and accelerate the energy transition. “We have a lot of exciting things to share with our customers at CIGRE Session 2022,” says Silva. “And we hope to get feedback from them — their problems and how they view our solutions — as well as their input on how to continue improving our products.”