Global microgrid strategies are a key part of solving sustainable energy challenges, and 5G Networking and Connectivity is poised to be critical to that process. Raised on a farm in Illinois, Liana Ault, General Manager of Energy Innovation at Nokia, is passionate about connecting rural communities, particularly focusing on the economic development of small communities rising to the challenge to provide them with reliable and affordable energy.
With over 20 years of experience in network and telecommunications and 10 years in power utilities, as part of her leadership role at Nokia, she is leading the development of programs and solutions for utilities to expand their services and meet the connectivity needs of underserved communities.
According to the UN, 789 million people around the world are without access to any electricity, and millions more lack a reliable energy supply. Surging fuel prices are making the problem worse, leading millions of people into energy poverty. Many households are now facing a choice between heating or eating, and at the same time, the world faces another crisis: carbon emissions are warming the atmosphere rapidly, and burning fossil fuels for energy is among the main contributors.
A microgrid is a self-contained grid that uses renewable energy, batteries for energy storage and generators to produce power, according to Nokia’s definition, and can complement the national grid or work independently from it, providing communities with access to more sustainable and resilient energy supplies.
With the latest technology innovations – such as 5G connectivity, IoT systems and AI, Nokia’s vision is to connect, monitor and manage the renewable sources and ensure a more efficient, reliable and sustainable microgrid infrastructure.
In a podcast sponsored by Nokia, Dr.Thomas Hillig, the founder and managing director of THEnergy, a boutique consultancy established in 2013 focusing on microgrids, mini-grids and off-grid renewable energy, was asked about the definition of a microgrid – which is not just a small version of a regular grid.
“Microgrids allow, under certain circumstances, for an islanded power generation,” Dr. Hillig said. “In the end, you decouple from the national grid in a microgrid, or you in some cases are not connected at all, this is the second option. And then you generate electricity locally and consume it also locally. It does not have to be 100% of the time. A village could be connected to the national grid, but under certain circumstances, for example, if there are hurricanes, if there are certain wildfire conditions, it could make sense to decouple a certain section of the grid from the national grid and this is what a microgrid is in the end.”
Hillig also addressed the application of software, hardware and AI in making global microgrid work.
“On the software side, in the end, you want to match renewable energy or energy generation in total with consumption,” he explained. “Demand and supply should be matched in an optimized way. In a typical microgrid, at least in sophisticated ones, you have plenty of sensors, input data, AI algorithms and machine learning to help optimize this matching of demand and supply.”
The Internet of Things will play an important role in global microgrid, as will 5G technologies, Hillig explained.
“Microgrids are very much about collecting tons of data,” he said. “One of the typical expressions is, if you want to optimize a microgrid, you have to get through a whole lake of data. To collect this data, some of this data is in stable environments, some is also moving, some is very centralized directly at the grid, sometimes you have to go a little bit beyond the borders of the microgrid. In the end of connecting endless amounts of data and sensors to the central control unit, 5G is an ideal fit.”
When asked for the most important advice Hillig’s organization provides to their clients interested in building a microgrid, Hillig said, “I think it’s very important to know which problems the microgrid should solve. If it is just about getting cheap electricity, the microgrid is probably not the easiest solution you have at hand. You could also source electricity through corporate and power purchase agreements. If you need power of a higher quality than you are getting from the grid, where in most situations it’s very difficult for you to convert the power grid, then you might have to do something locally. But be aware… why do you need a microgrid? What are your problems? If you don’t have any problem at all today, if you can, for example, source clean energy at acceptable conditions, if your power supply comes at a reasonable price, you probably don’t have to think too much about microgrids. If you are somewhere where you have to deal with outages, if your production is really affected, this would then be part of the business case, which could put you in a situation where it might make sense to think about microgrids.”
Development of global microgrid technologies which blend telecom and energy distribution at Nokia is part of the company’s commitment to ESG programs.
“The use of connectivity and digitalization enables a global reduction in carbon emissions, which can be almost ten times greater than the carbon footprint that it generates,” said Melissa Schoeb, Nokia’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer. “This is because of the opportunity that connectivity and digitalization provide in decarbonizing industries and cities and is why we often say, there is no green without digital.”
Schoeb also said Nokia aims to provide connectivity and digital solutions that sustainably transform physical industries reducing their impact on the planet, making them safer and more productive.
“To achieve this, we focus on the ‘Green Digital’ proposition in our Enterprise portfolio and work within our eco-system to better measure this enablement effect and articulate its business case.”
Schoeb cited one example as Nokia’s work with A1 for Siemens and their Vienna campus microgrid, where Nokia provided a “private network that allows the microgrid assets to communicate with each other in real time – based on the movement of around 1,000 datapoints from 34 devices. This one microgrid was directly responsible for saving around 100 tons of CO2 in 2021, with double these savings expected in 2022.”
“The issue of solving climate change in general is urgent, and it is also urgent that we help end fuel poverty,” said Marilyn Waite, Managing Director of the Climate Finance Fund. “We have seen that electricity prices skyrocket and so decoupling that economic viability from fossil fuels is core to solving climate change and to also ending fuel poverty.”