The future of energy is virtual plants: computing centres that regulate electricity production and distribution and are connected with a network of efficient plants based on renewable sources
Our world is increasingly virtual. Finance is based on online transactions, and even people build relations on their computers. The energy sector is not an exception: in the future, electricity will be managed virtually.
A number of medium-small sized plants will be at the centre of the energy scenario – all of them efficient, mostly using renewable sources and coordinated by a digital programme – and will substitute large facilities. In the opinion of Electric power research institute (EPRI) they will be virtual plants, computing centres that will decide in real time where the electricity to be grid-injected should come from, where it will be distributed and also stocked, based on demand and climatic conditions of the Sun and winds.
Much is already under way. It started off with electronic meters: an innovation that was created in Italy, where Enel installed these devices for all its customers. Followed by smart grids for energy distribution: ongoing projects (again with Enel and Italy in the front line, as shown by the Isernia project) are the embryos of virtual plants.
In short, the computing centre is like the brain that coordinates the organs, which are the distributed generation plants. Italy is a leader also for these “brains”, thanks to Enel’s research on cyber-security.
Therefore, smart grids and computing technology can help achieve a sustainable energy future, based on renewable sources, distributed generation, energy efficiency and electricity storage.