By Mike Bates

Substations are becoming an increasingly important pivot point for managing the two-way flow of electrons, which are flowing downstream from big power plants and upstream from distributed energy resources, such as the solar panels on your house.

Understanding the implications of this major change of the energy sector is mission-critical for utility companies and other businesses that want to benefit from this paradigm shift. An important piece of the puzzle is the deployment of intelligent systems in substations. That will be the focus of our virtual event on Dec. 3, from 11 a.m. to 1  p.m. (Eastern). Some of the world’s leading utility and smart grid experts will join us to discuss how the energy sector is changing, and what that means for you.

During the Intelligent Systems Forum – sponsored by Intel Industrial Solution Builders (ISB) and Zpryme  –  we’ll focus on how the pivot towards clean, renewable energy is changing the power distribution landscape, why intelligent substations are the inflection point for flattening the grid, and how the grid of the future is driving the evolution of Energy as a Service.

Intel is facilitating this discussion because a cornerstone of grid modernization is the transformation of substations from what have historically served as big switches –needed for stepping-down high voltage power and re-distributing it – to AI-enabled compute hubs that are designed for automation and load balancing.

The Great Energy Transition

The highly centralized power production and distribution market is becoming increasingly disaggregated as energy generation shifts downstream. Big energy producers are keenly aware of the profound impact the bi-directional grid conversion will have on the industry.

We’re already seeing large utility companies invest in software-defined automation and control systems to enable next-generation substation architecture. At the same time, big oil companies are shifting resources to position themselves as major players in the downstream production and distribution of renewable energy.

The stakes are enormous. There are more than half a million generation, transmission, and primary substations around the globe. Utilities are being forced to modernize these substations because of the large-scale penetration of distributed energy resources at the edge of grid. In particular, renewables are contributing to demand and generation imbalances, grid overloading, and premature equipment failures. These issues require utilities to upgrade legacy control systems with scalable, data-centric technologies to proactively manage the grid for efficiency and safety. Ultimately, virtualized infrastructure will help utilities reduce the number of devices per substation and significantly reduce the operating and maintenance costs.

Our forum on December 3rd will include a deep dive into how the energy winds are shifting in Europe and the United States. Guest panelists from Enedis and Iberdrola will share their experiences related to the digital transformation of substations. We’ll also get insight into how the Virtual Protection Relay (ViPR) Coalition is poised to help modernize infrastructure in North America. Plus, we’ll engage with speakers from coalition participants such as Southern California Edison, Salt River Project, Entergy, and American Electric Power.

Substations at the Crossroads

Substations are where the action is in the bi-directional grid. But that means utilities now have a huge challenge. As we’ll explore in December, Smart Grid substations need the ability to balance loads as consumption fluctuates, and as electricity flows in from both traditional power plants and a myriad of renewable energy sources.

When we talk about flattening the grid, we’re referring to a fundamental shift in energy value, from legacy power sources – like coal-fired and nuclear power plants – to the clean and renewable sources that are proliferating at the edge.

Legacy systems and proprietary solutions are giving way to a more standardized, nonproprietary, and interoperable grid. The grid of the future will be powered by Smart Grid technology that uses machine learning and virtualization for monitoring, control, and edge analytics. In Europe, Intel has been leading the way by helping to develop a reference architecture that facilitates the deployment of a standards-based, and more secure, edge computing environment.

Standardizing the energy grid is reminiscent of how Intel technology helped telecommunications providers with a similar paradigm shift – moving from fixed function hardware solutions to more flexible, scalable platforms, in the cloud and at the edge. Instead of connectivity based on a legacy systems and proprietary hardware,  the industry rapidly adopted an integrated, open platform model based on virtualized network functions.

Get Ready for Energy-as-a-Service

Another important trend on our agenda for the Intelligent Systems Forum is

the emergence of Energy-as-a-Service (EaaS), which includes the sale and distribution of energy and related services, such as grid access and usage analytics. EaaS is a seismic shift in the industry, and offers opportunities for new entrants to compete head-on with legacy utility providers. Fortune Business Insights projects the EaaS market will reach nearly $42 billion a year by 2027.

We’ll be exploring some of the new opportunities related to EaaS, as well as how and why utilities need to be proactive in responding to the changing marketplace. One of the most important challenges for utilities is to become market leaders in smoothing the way for the distributed grid to grow.

As we’ll discuss, utilities are uniquely positioned to enable substations to automatically monitor, manage, aggregate, and optimize fluctuating loads and countless power sources. And substations are the place where edge compute will enable the real-time analytics needed to run a highly distributed infrastructure.

Investing in the technology needed to help support a new paradigm will put utilities in lock-step with the communities, policymakers, and non-profits that are all-in for a shift to renewable energy.

Our forum will explore some of the Smart Grid initiatives already underway, and will identify how infrastructure investments and stimulus funding can help energy sector stakeholders benefit from this incredible industry shift.

There’s a lot to talk about, and a lot to learn. So, please join us on December 3rd for a better understanding of why intelligent systems in utility substations are a really big deal.

Register here.

Mike Bates is General Manager – Energy, at Intel