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Why the future of the electric grid is digital

Our increased dependency on electricity means looking for new, innovative ways to deliver power to our cities and homes. In our latest post, we look at the future of electricity distribution, the challenges, and how digitalization will play its role in ensuring that power grids keep up with demand.
Why the future of the electric grid is digital

A couple of years ago, I used to live in Latin America. I can remember one New Year’s Eve when we were preparing dinner, ready for some friends to come over. Suddenly there was a power interrupton and the rest of the cooking had to be done with candles in an almost pitch dark neighborhood.

These are the kinds of events that make us reflect on the fact that reliable energy is something we take for granted nowadays. We expected it to be there whenever we need it, without thinking of how it was produced, stored and delivered to us.

As we need to address the global climate ambitions and reduce emissions of green house gases, there’s an increasing expectation on electrification, especially on electricity produced by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Did you know, for example, that energy use is responsible for about two thirds of global greenhouse gases?*

The growth of electric

A strong driving force for change is the shift in attitudes and behaviours among consumers. On one hand, consumers are becoming producers of energy as solar panels become less expensive. On the other hand, we see the increased electrification of society, such as the fast uptake of electric cars. Increasingly, more of our consumption will require a reliable electricity supply. For example, we see globally a shift to higher consumption of digital experiences over physical products, a viewpoint that’s mentioned in the Ericsson 10 hot consumer trends 2030 report. Society will become increasingly dependent on electricity as it becomes more digitalized, and therefore a reliable power supply is crucial.

The future of the electric grid: connectivity and automation are key in the shift to renewables.

The future of the electric grid: connectivity and automation are key in the shift to renewables.

A power grid is an interconnected network that delivers electricity from producers to consumers. Traditional power grids have a clear hierarchical structure with electricity production at the top and end users at the bottom. However we are now moving into a situation with many distributed ‘procumers’ (both consumers and producers of electricity). This shift will make it even more challenging to match consumption with production and to ensure a good realibility of electricity.

At Ericsson Consumer and IndustryLab, we recently published a report Bringing 5G to Power elaborating on the role that connectivity and 5G has for the power distribution industry. A key finding from the report is that connectivity and automation will be highly needed when evolving to renewables and multiple distributed energy sources.

Values of digitalization

There are large societal and economic values associated with introducing connectivity into electricity distribution networks. We predict that interrrupton times can be reduced by 50 to 75 percent compared with today’s levels. Further, the distribution system operators (DSOs)  estimate they could reduce the labor required by as much as 50 percent with communication capabilities.

So investments in the power grid will be needed if, in the future, we want to avoid situations like my experience on that New Year’s Eve in Latin America, and at the same time move towards sustainable energy generation.

The power grids of tomorrow will be digital infrastructures, meaning they will be highly connected and automated. Ultimately, digitalization needs a reliable power supply and the power supply needs digitalization.

*Source: The Exponential Roadmap report, p.52.

Learn more

Read the Ericsson IndustryLab report, Bringing 5G to power.

Read Patrik’s previous blog post on how we should prepare for a zero-touch future.

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At the Ericsson Blog, we provide insight to make complex ideas on technology, innovation and business simple.