Why Malaysia needs smart grids


By Johan van der Veen
Tuesday, 17 May, 2022

Why Malaysia needs smart grids

Malaysia plans to more than double its renewable energy capacity from 8700 to 18,000 megawatts (MW) by 2035. The country has announced an investment of RM33 billion (over $8 billion) into renewable energy sources, and is already seeing rapid investment in automation and smart grid technologies to prepare for the transition. Here, Johan van der Veen, an account manager specialising in energy at remote monitoring and control expert Ovarro, explains why distribution automation will play a vital role in meeting Malaysia’s sustainability goals.

These are challenging times for energy grid managers. There is rising customer demand for resources like electric heating, while, on the other hand, energy sources are diversifying to include solar, wind and wave power.

Renewable energy sources, like solar, rely on low or medium voltages, so they can be difficult to monitor — and unpredictable. For instance, because the sun shines at certain times, solar panels feed energy back into the grid periodically and this can lead to potential instabilities and disruptions.

As a result, the energy distribution landscape is changing. Rather than the traditional top-down structure of one producer to many customers, there is now a shifting dynamic of energy being fed back and forth as usage peaks and troughs. If supply and demand don’t align, this can lead to a higher rate of power loss or unavailability incidents. Nobody wants a power failure, especially with heavy fines and public opinion on the line.

How can grid operators manage unpredictable energy sources more effectively and efficiently, without investing large amounts in extra infrastructure? The answer lies in distribution automation.

Work smarter, not harder

Distribution automation covers the final part of the energy network, between the last station and customers’ homes and businesses. In the past, this section of the grid was unmanaged apart from the meters.

However, recent years have seen a trend towards extending monitoring and control activities of low-voltage power sources on this part of the network. That means there has been an increased reliance on smart technologies to collect the data and analyse it. All this information can be used to predict problems, or identify them quickly once they do occur, which helps grid operators take preventive or remedial action.

In layman’s terms, an electricity grid is like a chain of cables — a failure in one link means the whole chain won’t work. To prevent this, smart grids can automatically identify and isolate the fault location, remotely switching gear so customers are supplied from another part of the grid.

Smart grids can also save human time and effort. Previously, grid engineers would drive between distribution stations until they found the one with the fault. Now, smart grids with remote monitoring capabilities can streamline this task. Maintenance teams can go directly to the source of the problem, and resolve the issue more quickly.

While the advantages of smart grids are clear, better access to data is what truly makes them work. That’s why remote telemetry units (RTUs) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are the building blocks of modern smart grids. These technologies collect and analyse large amounts of process data that are necessary for faster and better decision-making.

Solutions for smart grids

Datawatt, now part of Ovarro, has been working on making grids smarter with distribution automation technologies since 1977, well before the term smart grid even existed. Ovarro offers remote monitoring and SCADA systems designed for distribution grids, including the Datawatt Smart Grid (DSG) series of remote telemetry units (RTUs) operated with flexibility and security in mind.

The DSG series adheres to ISO/IEC 27001 Information Security Management System (ISMS), the leading standard for cyber risks in Malaysia. The DSG operates on Linux, the modern open-source platform known for reliability and stability.

Within the DSG system, Ovarro RTUs can collect and manage data before making it available to other systems for processing and analysing. As well as RTUs, Ovarro assembles cabinets that include a combination of its own products and third-party hardware, offering complete solutions that are quick and easy to install in the field.

There is also Datawatt Stream webscada, a central system and web portal that collects data in real time and makes it immediately available on digital devices. The data can be imported into the customer’s central system so everything is available in one place, making it easier to manage multiple renewable energy sources in different locations.

As Malaysia’s energy sector relies increasingly on renewable sources to meet its 2035 goals, effective and streamlined distribution management will prove more essential. That is where automation technologies, like Ovarro’s RTUs and the DSG system, can play a crucial role in preventing power outages and resolving faults more quickly.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/leungchopan

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