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Upgrading Transmission Infrastructure: The First Big Opportunity for Smart Grids?
We also believe that extensive opportunities exist for selling new kinds of FACTS, if they can be sold for attractive price points and vendors can get over the natural conservatism of utilities towards new technologies. Among the devices that are in need of improved price points are Unified Power Flow Controllers (UPFC), solid-state transfer switches and dynamic brakes. Such products already exist but have seen limited deployment. By contrast, some FACTS—for example, Static VAR compensators (SVCs) and DVARs/DSTATCOMs—are already fairly widely deployed.
HVDC Transmission Systems
NanoMarkets/Smart Grid Analysis also sees a huge opportunity for high-voltage Smart Grid DC transmission systems. While HVDC entails extra cost for AC/DC conversion, they bring with them a number of advantages such as the use of only one conductor and the fact that they are decoupled from the AC systems they interconnect.
Like FACTS, high-voltage DC transmission technology was first introduced in the 1970s, beginning with systems of a few hundred MW. At first they were used for undersea cables. Today, however, there is widespread agreement that for transmission distances above 600 km, DC transmission is more economical than AC transmission when more than a GW of power is involved.
HVDC has managed to keep pace with market needs. The state of the art in DC transmission ratings is now over 3 GW; a 3-GW, 500-kV system, for example, has been installed between northern Oregon and Los Angeles. In China, a 5-GW system is being constructed at 800 kV. Future HVDC systems of 6 GW and beyond are already being planned and we see an ongoing opportunity for continuing to push the envelope in terms of the power of these systems. HVDC systems are also seeing growth in terms of the applications they can support. Undersea cables remain a source of revenue for HVDC. However, Smart Grid Analysis also believes that there will be significant opportunities to deploy HVDC systems for interconnection between AC systems and as a means to bypass heavily loaded AC systems.
Final Thoughts on Smart Grid Transmission
Metering, home area networks, and smart appliances are all very nice, but home automation has a long and not commercially encouraging history. And it is also pretty clear that the pricing schemes that would make metering effective have yet to be implemented or even designed. Most of us have heard horror stories about the implementation of metering leading to higher prices for consumers.
Automation of the distribution sector is huge opportunity we believe; in fact we will soon publish a report on this topic too. But standards and security issues still need to be worked out and massive deployments of IT systems – which are what we are really talking about here – have always taken much longer to happen than the original specs envisioned.
By contrast with the more-often-emphasized distribution and customer premises sector, the drivers for putting in Smart Grid transmission systems are immediate and compelling.