Grid edge technologies presented as being vital in South Africa’s energy transition

Grid edge solutions and technologies hold considerable benefits for the country’s energy landscape and can play an instrumental role in decarbonising the global energy system, speakers noted during the Grid Edge Virtual Symposium, hosted by Siemens South Africa in collaboration with EE Business Intelligence, on October 14.

South Africa’s energy system, in alignment with global trends, is being transformed, becoming more decentralised, using more renewables and turning electricity consumers into producers and consumers of electricity, and this change creates challenges at the interface between the grid and consumers – which technology company Siemens refers to as the grid edge.

In the past, companies have mainly focused on the grid – the regulated side; however, the rising need for sustainability and new technologies is shifting focus to the other side – to buildings, customers as producers and consumers, and consumers.

Delivering the keynote during the symposium, Siemens Southern and Eastern Africa CEO Sabine Dall’Omo said the grid edge will encompass a variety of technology and services going forward, from electric vehicles to heat pumps, solar panels, home batteries and, importantly, smart meters to control a building and reduce its electric consumption.

To maximise the impact of grid edge technology, rollout and knowledge of these is needed.

Moreover, there is a need for the system to be ready to take energy from producers and feed that into the grid, with the technology to manage the grid with a variety of fluctuations, which is a change from the very static power supply it currently handles, Dall’Omo explained.

She pointed out that South Africa’s challenge is that of a much-needed energy transition, not just in terms of generation, but also of its energy systems. Therefore, the country needs an optimisation of its grid operations, which must be seen in the context of increasing complexity, she said.

She noted that the country’s grid was currently not ready to handle the high velocity of power and multidirectional flows from both private and public customers.

“The interlinking of existing smart technologies for grids, buildings and industrial automation, is creating a new dimension in the sustainable energy landscape; this is what we at Siemens call the ‘grid edge’.

The major building blocks for grid edge include decentralised energy solutions, renewable integration, grid-interactive buildings, energy storage and eMobility charging infrastructure, these are topics that have become fundamental to addressing South Africa’s energy crisis and transition,” Dall’Omo said.

Solutions at the grid edge could enable domestic, commercial, industrial, mining, agricultural and transportation entities to optimise their energy efficiency and consumption. These are said to empower customers and “prosumers” to intelligently integrate renewables and take control of their energy supply.

Grid edge technologies also support infrastructure for e-mobility expansion, where electric vehicles (EVs) may be connected to the grid as distributed energy storage entities. When connected at the grid edge, EVs may be charged from the grid as a consumer, and generate electricity back into the grid as a producer when required.

Solutions offered by Siemens include in the domain of municipalities. Solutions range from renewables integration and aggregation to microgrids in the distribution grid to decentralised energy solutions as a service.

For campuses, grid edge solutions can help control energy use effectively across a wide area with multiple buildings. It can enhance campus e-mobility infrastructure, or achieve net-zero energy with renewables integration and a microgrid.

For buildings, technologies at the grid edge help these optimise energy – with side-based decentralised generation and storage, intelligent fleet charging systems, optimisation of energy efficiency, operations and maintenance and business models.

For process and discrete industries, solutions range from the optimisation of energy use and cost, to optimisation across energy sectors (sector coupling) and microgrid management systems that enable grid resilience, reliable power quality and island ability.

Grid edge technologies will also fundamentally change residential areas, for example, by effectively connecting households to a sustainable EV charging ecosystem or by empowering customers to effectively integrate solar energy for self-consumption.

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