According to a report from cleantech research firm Pike Research, while smart grids are seen as important for the growth in renewable energy generation, to date investment in integrating the two has been more talk than action. But Pike believes this will change over the next few years. Worldwide revenue from smart grid renewables integration will reach almost $4bn in 2012 and climb to $13bn by 2018, a compound annual growth rate of nearly 23%.
There’s a huge amount that needs to be done to integrate renwables, not least the new transmission lines needed to connect large-scale wind and solar farms, but the biggest buzz, according to Pike, is about smart grid technologies at the distribution level. A broad set of technology tools will be required, including advanced energy storage at the transmission, distribution, and residential levels, dynamic pricing demand response, virtual power plants, microgrids and smart wind and solar technologies.
The leading technology in terms of smart grid renewables integration in 2012 is microgrids, which will capture more than $3bn, or 81% of the total. Remote microgrids will represent more than 90% of this total, a reflection of the challenges of integrating distributed solar and wind in regions of the world where a reliable utility power grid is lacking.
By region, the Asia/Pacific shows the most market activity in smart grid renewables integration, with revenues up by over $1bn in 2012 to almost $5bn in 2018. Second is North America, with revenue increasing from $974m in 2012 to almost $4bn by 2018.
“The success record of smart grid renewables integration to date is a mixed bag,” says senior analyst Peter Asmus. “European countries are boldly ploughing forward while many US utilities exhibit ‘electrotrophobia’ – the fear of change linked to greater reliance upon intermittent renewable energy resources. That will change as many utilities launch comprehensive programs and place significant investments in the ability of the smart grid to lower the costs of integrating renewable generation at the transmission, distribution, and residential levels.”
It’s always been my view that the main benefit of smart grids is to handle renewable energy, so it’s a surprise that more has not been done already. On the supply smart grids need to manage renewable energy from a variety of sources – from huge wind farms or domestic solar panels – as well as having the means to manage user demand to best match the renewable energy flow. Everything else is nice to have, but it must be questionable whether the cost would be worth it.
So it’s heartening to learn from Pike that renewables are getting particular focus. I haven’t read the report, but I do wonder what the focus was previously.