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Change leaders in a disrupted energy market

Each year, the US-based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)’s Technology Transfer Awards recognise industry leaders and innovators at the vanguard of adopting new technology and spearheading the application of research findings. ESI Africa spoke with the 2017 award winners from Eskom, Eng. Sanjian Malapermal and Dr Prathaban Moodley.
Congratulations to you both and to Eskom on your 2017 EPRI Technology Transfer Award. Eng. Malapermal, please elaborate on this awardwinning project.

The system-wide assessment of distribution energy resources (DER) is a project within EPRI’s integration of DER programme that Eskom subscribes to. EPRI developed the Distribution Resource Integration and Value Estimation (DRIVE) tool, which enables distribution engineers to assess the grid with a primary focus of integrating and evaluating new distributed energy resources.

Multiple utilities from North America, Canada, Europe, Taiwan, Mexico and South Africa’s Eskom are participating in DRIVE-related projects. The aim of the Eskom project is to develop an interactive platform that integrates with the vendor power system software (DIgSILENT PowerFactory). This allows utility planners to analyse and visualise the extent to which DER can be hosted, without creating any power quality or reliability issues on networks. DRIVE interfaces with the detailed feeder models that Eskom maintains, and calculates the hosting capacity of each feeder using efficient methodologies and techniques.

Notwithstanding initiation delays and challenges of mobilising resources at a national level, including attending webinars separated by a 6-hour time difference, I led a team of Eskom engineers to provide 123 Eskom network feeder models so that EPRI could customise an interface between the existing Eskom distribution system software tools (DIgSILENT PowerFactory) with EPRI’s DRIVE-tool.

A selective process was used to acquire the DIgSILENT PowerFactory files, which intrinsically had a range of characteristics. This included voltage limited networks, networks with passive voltage control, reactive power compensated networks, networks that included large resistance to reactance (R/X) ratios, highly loaded networks, lightly loaded networks, networks with vast geographic extents, networks ranging in length and networks that posed a possible reverse voltage rise that served as a proxy for high penetration and concentration of DER.

The DIgSILENT PowerFactory models provided formed the basis for interpreting information between the DRIVE tool and a proprietary software package not widely used in the US. This allowed EPRI to extend their industry reach and support Eskom in understanding the hosting capacity and capability of DER. With the release of the DRIVE tool, Eskom engineers will be able to perform a system wide assessment on the distribution network.

The impact of DER is certainly disrupting the industry and this research will assist utilities to keep pace with global industry challenges. Dr Moodley, how does it feel to receive the EPRI recognition?

I am proud of the entire team that has contributed to the collaborative research effort. Eskom has always valued and invested into research and innovation initiatives and has partnered with similar minded research organisations over many decades. In particular, this recognition is dedicated to Eskom’s research team, Eskom engineering colleagues and our EPRI research colleagues who tirelessly contribute towards innovation that ultimately benefits each and every citizen of our country.

Eskom has invested into research and achieved many great accomplishments in the past – such as being the first power utility to research, commission and operate the highest transmission voltage at 765kV in the 1980s; or being the first power utility to research, design and deploy dry cooling at coal fired power stations in the 1970s. I believe that this achievement recognises our journey towards achieving greatness.

Those are great research achievements dating back many years. Dr Moodley, is this level of innovation continuing?

We are very excited about the recently Eskom Exco and Board approved 5-year research programme, which is ambitious and challenges our research teams to adopt innovative and out of the box thinking approaches to solve the most significant challenges facing the power utility and our industry. We will attempt to push the boundaries of science and engineering.

The programme has identified 12 grand challenges, which address three fundamental questions:
1. What future generation businesses and technology choices should the industry invest into for long term sustainability? 2. How does Eskom maintain and operate existing generation, wires and retail businesses under constrained resources leveraging on new technologies and advanced analytics? and
3. How does Eskom adapt its business to leverage on the imminent technology disruptors and grow new business?

What is the importance of streamlined hosting capacity, which has earned you this award, to the utility sector?

Dr Moodley: The amount of DER that any distribution feeder can accommodate or host, without adversely impacting system reliability or power quality, varies from distribution system to distribution system and within feeders in a system. The factors that determine the adequacy of planning engineering studies on a feeder are:
a) the size and location of the DER plant;
b) distribution feeder characteristics including the existing load; and
c) the type of DER technology.

Planning of the DER on distribution feeders will optimise the hosting capacity of the feeder and hence avoid the need to build additional distribution lines and substations.

Eng. Malapermal: Embedded generation (DER) challenges utility planning and operational philosophies the conventional power flow from source (generator) to sink (load). Distribution utility engineers need to explore techniques beyond their classical approaches to ensure that penetration and saturation levels of distributed resource maintain the integrity of the network. The DRIVE hosting capacity tool will inform the assessment of penetration and saturation levels of DER through analysis based on the individual network characteristics. Scalability of power systems analysis simulations will enable visualisation of hosting capacity per feeder across the entire system.

Amongst the criteria that EPRI looks for are industry leaders and innovators. Attaining this level of leadership is rooted in acquiring inspiration from others. Tell us about your role model.

Dr Moodley: My role model is Steve Jobs and is probably a role model to many innovators and entrepreneurs. At the time, computing technology was only available to large corporations. Jobs and Steve Wozniak had a passion and vision to bring this technology to the benefit of every home. This passion drove him together with a small team of like-minded people to develop and build a home computer product in his parent’s garage that changed the world. His single minded focus on producing a great product to the benefit of society produced efficiencies and productivity that rivalled corporations such as International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). It demonstrated that a small team with passion and focus can beat resource rich large corporations!

This combination of passion, single minded focus and leveraging on technology advancements brought Apple from the brink of closure to becoming one of the greatest companies in the world. The belief that technology advancements should be for the benefit of the people has resulted in Apple going on to disrupt itself. Jobs never wanted to maintain the status quo and protect Apple’s products: he would go on to innovate products that would cannibalise Apple’s own products. Apple’s products combine the humanities with science and always strive for perfection in the creation of great products.

Eng. Malapermal: My role model is more than a person. I am encouraged when ordinary people achieve greatness while preserving their integrity. I tend to follow people with good intentions; honest belief systems and a good moral compass. I am a firm believer of the natural laws that exist through cause and effect. Some call this Karma. My role model is therefore embodied in people who demonstrate these traits.

What are you excited about in terms of the future of how energy will be generated, distributed and managed?

Dr Moodley: Over the past 100 years, the centralised generation model has dominated the electricity landscape; research over this time produced mere incremental improvements. The monotony has not attracted the brightest engineering minds to the industry. However, the next decade and decades to follow will be the most exciting time to be involved in the power utility space. There are several technology disruptors that promise to challenge the status quo and demolish the barriers to entry. Thus the brightest minds in a research space are given the rare opportunity to invent the future, leverage technologies and shape the world of the power utility.

Eng. Malapermal: I am excited that our future grid will open new opportunities for a multitude of stakeholders to enter the energy market. Research-enabled initiatives in the energy sector will enable South Africans to contribute to the African and global story. Introduction of smart technologies, from homes to transportation and business expansion efficiencies, will improve productivity and enable economic growth.

What are you most concerned about when you think about the future of our energy resources?

Dr Moodley: It is my belief that, given the opportunity, a child in Africa can change the world and create the next Google or Apple. These children may solve the biggest challenges like finding a cure to HIV/Aids or cancer. This requires a concerted effort to give our children all the opportunities and infrastructure. Every child should have access to electricity to have a warm meal before they sleep or to have a light above their bed to study. This is the reason power utilities like Eskom exist. Therefore the future decisions of our energy resources must be to ensure that every citizen has access to affordable and reliable electricity. We need to use the abundant solar, wind and coal resources that we have. We should not naively follow other countries’ policies but base our decisions on affordability and energy security.

Eng. Malapermal: I believe that we need to ensure that there is an orderly and controlled expansion of energy resources onto the grid. The power system is the largest machine ever build by man and while it can be forgiving, failure to respect or understand the principles of operation can be unforgiving and costly. New energy resource technologies entering the grid must be evaluated for optimum size and location, ensuring least economic life cycle cost of electricity. Balancing the mix of energy resources and appropriate technologies are critical success factors to new entrants to the grid.

What is your personal vision for the energy sector in South Africa?

Dr Moodley: The power utility of the future in South Africa that is able to transform to a highly flexible and agile organisation. The utility that fully appreciates that there are various customer segments with varying needs and is able to develop and deploy efficient and reliable solutions based on technology advances and disruptors to meet and exceed these customers’ unique expectations. This may result in a change to simultaneous multiple agile operating models such as: an adaptation of centralised generation for the power intensive segments that bring the efficiencies and reliability of supply for the sector. With a hybrid approach of distributed energy resources and grid tied supply for other customer segments that value this approach. The electrification challenge is achieved by adopting the concept of an intelligent microgrid with strong community involvement in the operation and maintenance thereof.

Eng. Malapermal: I envision an affordable energy sector that enables all South Africans to live, travel and work using energy wisely. I see smart home and business energy systems that efficiently draw from and supply to the grid as required. Use of fuel cell and storage technology that reduces local demand peaks from the grid thereby enabling effective control and management of local and national peak demands. I see smart transportation systems that efficiently reduce our carbon footprint. We need policy makers, fiscal funding, political will and engineering passion to make it happen!

What message do you wish to share with your peers throughout Africa?

Dr Moodley: Streets in Kimberly, a small town in Africa, were lit up with electric light bulbs within years of Thomas Edison’s invention, and were switched on before London. Sadly, over 130 years later, continental Africa remains scarcely electrified. The electrified world has invested substantially and has been locked into the technology choices and the traditional centralised generation, long distance transmission and distributed model. Africa has a huge opportunity to leverage on technology disruptors and leapfrog itself into the next generation of the future power utility model. The distributed model of generation near the load areas eradicates the need for large centralised generation and transmission infrastructure, thus substantially reducing investment costs. Leveraging on technology advances and disruptors will ensure that Africa has a competitive advantage, knowledge and skills before the rest of the world.

Eng. Malapermal: My fellow engineers, our skills, knowledge and competence give us a unique advantage to lead projects and economic activity. We should stand together with industry, academia and research institutes and use the electric grids to serve as catalysts for growth and development. Let our infrastructure be the superhighways that connect our countries. We have an abundance of energy resources and mineral wealth to power up this continent and enable development of our people to ensure the prosperity of the next generation. What are we waiting for? ESI

About the interviewees

Dr Prathaban Moodley has been with Eskom for 16 years and is currently in the position of Technology Strategy & Planning Manager at Eskom Research,Testing and Development.

Eng. Sanjian Malapermal, Eskom’s Chief Engineer with Group Technology – Planning & GIS CoE, is disciplined in the integration of grid distributed renewable resources, with 22 years of industry experience.

Babalwa Bungane
Babalwa Bungane is the content producer for ESI Africa - Clarion Events Africa. Babalwa has been writing for the publication for over five years. She also contributes to sister publications; Smart Energy International and Power Engineering International. Babalwa is a social media enthusiast.