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How utilities can combat diverse threats to decentralised grids

Energy generation and storage is rapidly being moved from the centre to the edges of the network, with far-reaching consequences for grid management and oversight. Across the world, the policy direction is increasingly towards distributed generation with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the EU Framework 2030, European Green Deal, and an EU Directive all championing self-sufficient energy communities. UK community energy organisations have already delivered over 30MW of renewable power with community groups funding 175 new renewable energy schemes ranging from solar to hydroelectric, while the EU predicts that energy cooperatives could own 17% of its installed wind capacity within a decade.

Pioneering projects include Germany’s Energy Cooperative Heilbronn-Franken, the Orkney Community Windfarm Project, the Bright Tucson Community Solar Program in the US, and UK initiatives to exploit ground-source heat pumps in hundreds of urban parks.

‘Interconnection’, which allows small-scale renewable energy projects to connect to the electric grid, will mean that national grids increasingly draw on these local, community-run power sources. Home energy storage and vehicle-to-grid technology are similarly decentralising energy storage, transforming homes and cars into batteries that share power with the grid. Experts predict that renewable electric grids will have to draw on a mix of centralised and decentralised power to remain flexible and resilient. In theory, a diverse and decentralised array of local and central power sources will improve resilience by enabling grids to adapt to sudden local fluctuations in wind, sunshine, or consumer demand. This also creates growing interdependence between local power sources and regional or even national grids.

A little-known consequence of the decentralisation of energy is the consequent fragmentation of the geospatial network data traditionally used to capture, monitor, and protect electric grids. With generation and storage capacity splintered among far more people and places, vulnerabilities will be more widely dispersed and difficult to manage. Distributed generation can blur visibility over all the subtle dependencies between a network’s local assets and the potential for many systemic vulnerabilities to natural hazards.

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