Preventing substation overcapacity and reducing costs with intelligent gateways

Many challenges exist for integrating renewable energy into the electric grid, especially for distributed, intermittent energy sources like Photovoltaics (PV). Germany's leadership in the solar industry is well known and thanks to government incentive programs, it boasts a very high penetration of rooftop PV installations for residential structures. But on sunny days, excess power flowing upstream into the grid from a large a number of distributed energy sources can lead to overcapacity, and ironically, cause costly brownouts. The grid was not originally built to handle so much distributed generation. So what can be done?

In my role at Intel, I am part of a team of technologists and researchers working with Westfalen Weser Energie, a large power and gas distribution grid operator in Germany, to help solve this problem. Together, we have defined a solution using Intel Intelligent Gateways for its secondary substations that interact with sensors on the distribution line to detect key parameters. This takes place at the neighborhood level and controls energy flow to around 100 homes. These parameters are aggregated and communicated to various control systems (SCADA) at the utility, giving them visibility into what's happening in the distribution network.

Building a completely new infrastructure was not an option so we needed to ensure interoperability with Westfalen's legacy systems. Because existing sensors on power lines communicate via a number of different ways, the gateways need to interface with these existing protocols, translate the data into various formats, and communicate securely with the existing SCADA systems. The data set includes currents on the primary and secondary feeders, voltage and current on the primary and secondary side of the transformer, as well as transformer internal temperature. Adding in real time weather data also enables a much richer overall systems analysis.

Westfalen now has the ability to control and load balance the energy across its network, avoiding any secondary substation overcapacity that could result in a brownout. It also is reducing CapEx and OpEx expenditures by better predicting when to replace older transformers and plan for upgrades, both in terms of budgeting and downtime. Intelligent gateways that integrate with legacy infrastructure is a key component of Intel's vision for the Internet of Things. To learn more about intelligent gateways, visit Intel's IoT Overview.