Power play: electrical automation in the GCC

The Middle East must invest in developing its automation capabilities in order to upgrade its existing electrical network and meet growing demand

Tim Spearing is responsible for the global product management of Lucy Electric’s automation business.
Tim Spearing is responsible for the global product management of Lucy Electric’s automation business.

Across the world, utilities providers are facing growing challenges to secure a stable, reliable and high performance distribution network to meet their customers’ future needs.

In particular, the Middle East is being challenged to respond to a rapidly evolving landscape. Driven by strong economic growth and a current population of approximately 260 million, which is increasing by around 2.2% per year, the Middle East is one of the fastest growing regions in the world.

It comes as no surprise therefore, that access to a stable, reliable and high-performance electrical distribution network is vital in powering new industrial development across the region, in addition to continuing to meet existing business and growing residential needs.

In order to respond to the rapidly growing needs, the Middle East must develop its existing electrical network. One way of doing this, increasing stability and robustness of supply, is investment in automation and smart grid projects, which can realise efficiencies across the network and help ‘future-proof’ the infrastructure.

With the demand for electrical power increasing in the Middle East, there has been significant growth of distributed generation along the network, primarily from additional renewable sources. While this has addressed the increasing demand for electrical power, it has also impacted utilities in the region in that they are now faced with new challenges to manage much larger and more complex networks. Traditionally, distribution networks are controlled via a top-down approach and have only to deal with single-direction current flow.

However, as networks grow more complex, for instance with the introduction of renewable energy feeds, the risk of faults occurring increases significantly, brought on by changes in power flow, lower voltage generation, and storage.

In order to manage the risk of increased faults and proactively respond to supply and demand peaks in real time, utilities need greater adaptability in the network and access to fast, accurate information.

By enabling the smart grid, utilities have a clear situational awareness at all times, which allows for fast fault identification and resolution of any issues within the network in both pre-emptive and reactionary cases.

However, changing the network infrastructure overnight, to enable smart grid capabilities, is neither cost effective nor practical for distribution companies.

In order to provide the foundation for future smart grid updates, distribution networks need to adopt an effective investment strategy. By installing assets along the network that are capable of being upgraded, utilities are able to extend the parts of the network being monitored and add more granularity to the monitoring processes.

In addition to maximising the asset life of the installed equipment base, automation control can be applied in a staged approach. This is an efficient way of implementing automation projects where monitoring is required at the majority of sites but the location of switching sites is unknown. It delivers cost savings in both planning and implementation, plus all the benefits of automation solutions, while balancing cost pressures and extending existing asset life.

The Middle East faces many challenges in achieving a stable, reliable, and high-performance electrical distribution network due to its rate of growth. The evolution of the smart grid can address many of those issues, but also presents challenges of its own.

A staged approach to developing automation for an electrical distribution network can rapidly improve quality and reliability in a very cost-effective way. By using a process of monitoring and making incremental investments, utilities can deliver smart grid projects in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

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