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Sat 30 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Smart solutions

Smart grid technology has been heralded as the saviour of energy efficiency.

Smart solutions
Syed Hasan, director at Al Mostajed Technologies.
Smart solutions
Khaled Awad, director of property development at Masdar.
Smart solutions
Robert Gilligan, vice president of transmission and distribution at GE Energy.
Smart solutions
Walter Dussaucy, communications director at AReva.

Smart grid technology has been heralded as the saviour of energy efficiency.

At the recent World Future Energy Summit, held in Abu Dhabi, there was much discussion of grand and green ideas, but substantive measures remain elusive.

One widespread and significant change that is steadily becoming a reality, through pilot programmes and large scale trials, is the development of a smart grid. It seems likely that as the concept develops and becomes established, contractors will have to familiarise themselves with the inclusion and installation of smart grid components on a large scale. Retro fitting of such equipment will also have a part to play.

Smart grids can be hard to define. Rather than being one single product, system or design, it is more a bringing together of several concepts and one overriding aim: energy efficiency.

The main feature of a successful smart grid is two way communication between a consumer's household and the energy provider.

"Technology has reached a stage where the devices have become intelligent and can start communicating with each other. There was a big revolution in the telecommunication market, if Alexander Graham bell was alive, he would not recognise the phones we use today. But if Thomas Eddison was, he would still recognise the bulb and the grid because it hasn't changed in all these years," explains Syed Hasan, director at Al Mostajed Technologies.

The concept of a smart grid in the Middle East is one that is becoming more appealing here. "There is strong interest. We see some of the utilities beginning to pilot smart meters and thinking about what they need in terms of the communications infrastructure. We see more awareness in what is going on in the distribution grid and doing more automation around the distribution substation, so I think it is beginning," says Robert Gilligan, vice president of transmission and distribution at GE Energy.

Smart grid systems have been implemented in the US and in Europe to a certain extent already, and now Dubai seems to be taking a major step towards implementing one itself. The Middle East has a unique opportunity to advance this technology, as Gilligan points out.

"I think that the Middle East, there is an opportunity to leapfrog because as you are putting all this new infrastructure in you can enable it from the time you put it in with sensors and communication etc to enable a smarter grid so you can actually move faster."The key element of smart grids is the smart meter, which is vastly different from the old meters which are currently used in the majority of households. "You will be able to know in real time, online, where the energy is being consumed. So you can utilise your assets more economically and efficiently. Then you can generate more efficiently. And you can warn consumers about excess energy use by giving them information, which can encourage them to consume less energy," states Hasan.

The benefits of this system are multiple. Khaled Awad, director of property development at Masdar, lists some of them. "Most important is the integration of supply and demand. That is a focus of our energy team. The communication of data from end to end, this smart grid can provide a dynamic flexible platform so it can adapt to varying levels of demand and supply," states Awad.

The introduction of smart grids into the Middle East is not without its challenges, however. "The smarter grid systems are facing several top level challenges including raising the networks complexity, the increased demand for energy and electricity, moving towards an environmentally-friendlier energy mix, volatile energy prices and critical energy losses and large emerging Gulf transmission networks," Walter Dussaucy, communications director at Areva explains.

Policies and regulations of individual countries can play a big part in how smart grids can be used. Changing tariffs are one of the major policy changes which can be part of the grid's benefits. "From the data you can apply tariff changes in a country. These are the tools that we are providing which will then be used by the people making the policies," stresses Hasan.

Gilligan also believes that policies will have a huge part to play in the future of smart grids. "There is not a big technology challenge, I think we have technology that can address the needs of a smarter grid. The challenge is going to the policy and the regulatory frameworks, getting the right incentives around efficiency, ensuring that it pays to reduce losses."

The challenges are set and the benefits are clear, now it is important that policy makers don't lose sight on how important the implication of smart grid technology is.

"This is clearly the challenge of the future; the power generation and the power transmission sector is a key factor of the world's development. We are now thinking all the time of how to deliver solutions in a way which satisfies us by taking into account a greener and reliable environment. We are the architects of a smarter world," concludes Dussaucy.

Test pilot

AlMostajed is implementing an IMS project with a major utility and is engaged with several private bulk consumers of electricity and water, who are seriously evaluating the IMS, as part of the energy efficiency and green initiative.

AlMostajed realises the importance of local availability of resources when utilising modern state-of-the-art technologies.

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