The energy industry is being reshaped. The integration of decentralized power sources, digital technology and the rise of consumer supremacy are challenging traditional business models and creating new market roles and exciting opportunities.
Today, distribution network operators (DNOs) are the regulated businesses responsible for maintaining and operating the distribution network.
But the growth of distributed generation, renewable sources, energy storage and microgrids is disrupting DNOs’ traditional role: passive enablers of the one-way power flow from centralized sources to the end consumer.
The evolution of the network operator
Before the emergence of the digital grid, the flow of electricity was straightforward. Power moved from central generation to consumer in one direction, with any real-time balancing taken care of by the transmission system operator.
Network utilities facilitated the transfer of electricity, focusing on connections and maintaining the network. Their real-time operations were confined to preventing outages, managing faults and improving the service.
Today, generation is increasingly distributed throughout the network, often from intermittent resources such as solar PV or wind turbines. These intermittent resources result in a volatile grid that creates new complexity in ensuring supply adequacy and power quality.
They are also disrupting the core operations of network utilities. Grid operators can no longer rely on the simplicity of unidirectional power flows coming down from central generation. Instead, bi-directional power flows are forcing utilities to consider new techniques, just to keep voltage within safe thresholds and ensure consistent, reliable service.
Effectively, the network’s role is no longer simply about interconnection, but about actively integrating each element into a complex system to maintain stability. It’s a bit like moving from playing an instrument to conducting the orchestra. Such a big role change requires taking on new capabilities designed to balance the electricity network.