Electrical power engineering in the face of the climate crisis

15 min
Electrical power engineering in the face of the climate crisis – eltelnetworks.pl

Can this industry be environmentally friendly?

The theme of clean energy is one of the most important and increasingly raised issues in recent years due to the growing environmental degradation. Although present in, essential for and being a permanent part of our reality, the electrical power engineering as a subject of discussion has so far been reserved mainly for specialists and experts in this field. Now, given the need for global changes to address the climate crisis, it is little by little being debated in society, showing its specificity to all – is it environmentally friendly?

The environmental challenges faced by the world make it no longer possible to put off discussions on the energy infrastructure and environmental decarbonisation. So what can the electric energy sector do for nature?

Power engineering for the environment ⟶ energy security

Energy security can be considered in a wide range of areas, but in basic and general terms, it provides guarantees of energy supply and resilience to sudden and unpredictable events that may affect the continuity of electricity transmission covering the current and future demand.

A trend in the electric energy sector, which both is consistent in terms of energy security and takes into account the significant reduction in energy losses associated with energy transmission, is development of the so-called distributed power generation.

Distributed power generation

The basis for the existence of distributed power generation is multiple small power generation units spread throughout Poland. Small and medium-sized sources of power generation that are established in a short time present a lower investment risk, while ensuring high performance efficiency and lower operating costs. They are the basis for the development of smart energy systems and an alternative to large power plants. Moreover, they facilitate the use of RES energy. They promote the competitiveness of the economy and create new jobs. With this energy structure, electricity produced at a given site is at the same time consumed locally, preventing the need for its transmission to further areas of the power system and significantly reducing losses.

Energy storage facilities – new opportunities for managing surplus energy

The biggest problem of distributed energy generation from RES sources is the lack of stability in electricity production and the need to adjust it to the current demand in the system. In addition, changes in the electricity sector towards the development of RES-based distributed power generation require adaptation of the distribution network and new legislation. According to specialists, the current situation has reached a peak in terms of the technical and operational capacity of the existing power grids with regard to the integration (connectivity) of RES sources. This means that, in addition to upgrading their entire electricity infrastructure, electric power companies create new opportunities for managing surplus generated energy. For this purpose, they use among other things, the 3S energy storage facilities (SunSmartStore) equipped with an electrical energy management system that significantly improves the operation of photovoltaic or wind systems.

The 3S solution allows, among other things, to reduce electricity consumption during peak hours, and thus to reduce costs resulting from the introduction of the Capacity Market, the so-called capacity charge.

A PV system allows the production of electricity covering to a large extent the local needs. However, if equipped with a 3S energy storage and management system, it can be an additional power source to be used as a guaranteed power supply. The 3S can be the basis for a secure and easily scalable solution for power supply to the data centre as a UPS power backup or to critical industrial customers.

On a local scale, for a given customer or enterprise, the installations with 3S system perform the reactive power compensation function according to the demand of receivers, reducing the energy losses within the grid and eliminating the cost of failing to meet the power factor. The 3S system then acts as a capacitor battery, which supplies reactive power to induction receivers if required.

Maximizing uptime is a key factor in complex production lines, making them vulnerable to supply instability. Some applications require continuous operation or controlled shutdowns that must be ensured even in the event of mains disturbances. The 3S system can be configured so as to direct power to the critical receivers. This means that the size of the energy storage facility can be selected according to the demand of priority consumers, which is allowed by the use of the energy storage facility as a back-up power source.

Power engineering for the environment ⟶ energy efficiency and CO2 reduction

The activities of the Distribution System Operators (DSOs) and the Transmission System Operator (TSO) are in line with the EU policy (expressed in the National Energy and Climate Plan implemented by the Ministry of Energy) and consist primarily in decarbonization and increasing energy efficiency.

Low-loss cables

In the field of power lines, both these objectives are pursued by, but not limited to, modernizing the distribution and transmission lines. In overhead lines the work has started to replace cables into low-loss ones, which allow load losses to be reduced by up to 15% without having to redesign the other components of the grid.

Special earthing of return conductors

Recent years have also seen the dynamic development of HV and MV cable networks where the cable lines have to meet the requirements related not only to the power transmission volume, but also to the transmission loss reduction. The cable line capacity and loss levels in the power lines are clearly influenced by the way the return conductors are earthed.

According to the IEV dictionary (ref no. 461-14-02), the special earthing of return conductors is defined as follows: „methods of bonding and earthing the shields of single-core cables so as to minimize the longitudinal shield current induced by conductor currents”.

Earthing of metallic shields is required for all cable lines, particularly for the purpose of ensuring metallic connection of the return conductor/metallic shield, cable armouring and semiconducting outer layers of the sheath to the ground. If this connection is made incorrectly, it may lead to serious accidents as well as present an electric shock hazard. Eltel Networks has been conducting intensive research and implementation work for several years on the use of special earthing of return conductors in cable lines.

Spatial thermal imaging coupled with a TLS scanner

A thermal imaging inspection has different dimensions of impact on energy efficiency while ensuring the security and proper operation of the power network. On the one hand, it is used to inspect the thermal insulation of buildings, influencing the awareness that “the cheapest energy is the saved energy”, and on the other hand, it is a tool for distribution and transmission systems operators, reducing the likelihood of electricity infrastructure elements failing.

It is more efficient to invest in reducing energy demand than to meet this demand. That is why we have developed a new thermal imaging diagnostic method at Eltel Networks, which involves the coupling of the terrestrial laser scanner (TLS) with the thermal imaging camera. In the area of power networks (transmission, distribution as well as on-site), the systematic thermal laser scanning integrated into the condition monitoring system (CMS) allows for easy diagnostics of the entire station in one go where spatial data is collected in a relatively short period at a known load on the transmission system under investigation. The collected point cloud is coloured, giving the value of temperature to each point based on the photogram. Thus, the archive 3D model is used for easy inspection of the current state and allows comparison to the states from previous inspections to show the ageing of components, and this process can be fully automated by using computer techniques.

Quiet green energy-powered drones

In order to meet the requirement for a regular inspection of technical condition of the power network, it is common for DSOs and TSOs that they perform this work as bird’s eye inspections – raids with a helicopter with attached aerial photogrammetry and airborne laser scanning equipment. At Eltel Networks, we perform the inventory work using electric-powered drones (supplied by green power only – we have our own photovoltaic system), which eliminates CO2 emissions during this work, while taking care of the acoustic environment in the vicinity of the objects being inspected.

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Symbolic representation of CO2 reduction in the electricity sector – eltelnetworks.pl

Decarbonization is a major challenge for the power engineering, especially in the context of the EU’s climate objective to be achieved by 2030. It is reduction in CO2 emissions to 55%.

So then – can the electrical power engineering be environmentally friendly?

Unfortunately, the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity are intrinsically linked to environmental impacts. Nevertheless, in response to the question of whether the electrical power engineering can be more environmentally friendly, we can say that there are many initiatives in this area that lead to minimizing its negative impact. These activities are carried out at the strategic level through the implementation of the relevant directives, but also as bottom-up initiatives by companies such as Eltel Networks, which at all stages of their activities seek to reduce their environmental impact.