TNB’s future-proof grid ensures reliable power supply

Via its GoTF strategy, TNB is upgrading its existing network infrastructure into a smart, automated and digitally-enabled network that is robust, intelligent and flexible

by FAREZZA HANUM RASHID / pic courtesy of TNB

WITH access to over 25,000km of transmission lines, Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) has been building and operating a high voltage network of electricity grid across the peninsula.

Starting with the basic notion of bringing lights to every corner of Peninsular Malaysia to keeping the lights on for customers, TNB has evolved into becoming the driver for Malaysia’s energy transition that calls for a shift from generating electricity via fossil fuel to renewable sources.

However, this shift calls for a modernisation of the grid to ensure the electricity transmitted to consumers is secure, reliable and resilient.

Via its Grid of the Future (GoTF) strategy, TNB is upgrading its existing network infrastructure into a smart, automated and digitally-enabled network that is robust, intelligent and flexible. This will enable the optimisation of the network’s productivity, efficiency and reliability, thus transforming the customer experience.

From 2020 to 2025, RM36 billion has been allocated out of the RM65 billion capital expenditure to modernise TNB’s distribution and grid network, including the smart meter rollout peninsula-wide.

This is part of the GoTF strategy, which is a prerequisite to a successful energy transition for the country and to effectively enable a sustainable energy future.

This initiative allows TNB’s system to cope with greater renewables and decentralisation of energy, create open platforms for energy solutions to emerge and be resilient against cybersecurity and the impact of climate change.

As a cascading effect, this initiative will also benefit 4,500 local vendors to build globally exportable capabilities through structured development programmes in advanced assembly, manufacturing and analytics to fulfil regional demand in South-East Asia.

Growth of Renewable Energy Generation

TNB chief grid officer Datuk Husaini Husin said the days of the traditional one-way grid where electricity travelled from power plants to the point of consumption are numbered with the emergence of consumers who can produce their own power, known as prosumers, thus creating a two-way grid.

“The key to two-key technologies that facilitated the need for a two-way grid are smart meters and solar photovoltaic panels.

“Self-generation innovations made it possible for consumers to feed electricity generated from their rooftops back into the grid,” he said.

Malaysia’s development of the solar industry looks positive.

TNB, with two of its large-scale solar (LSS) projects in Sepang, Selangor (50MW) and Bukit Selambau, Kedah (30MW), looks forward to the subsequent rounds of the LSS bidding, inking more corporate power purchase agreement and providing rooftop solar solutions for customers.

Via TNB’s wholly owned subsidiary GSPARX Sdn Bhd, rooftop solar capacity has increased in 2020 by 54.5MW, bringing the total number to 81.07MW. GSPARX is targeting an additional 100MW this year.

The Need for A Modern Grid

While rooftop solar and smart meter initiatives are exciting opportunities for energy generation, it is not simply a case of plugging in a new system and enjoying its benefits. On a traditional grid, a rapid change of direction in electricity supply could cause challenges to the grid.

The electricity demand of a certain area requires detailed forecasting of consumption for it to be balanced with the planned generation and prosumers can significantly impact both sides of the equation.

Husaini said while self-generation can reduce individual electricity demand, it can also contribute to a spike in the total electricity generated across the entire network.

“An imbalance in this ratio between generation and demand can become a perpetual obstacle for traditional grid operators, as it will run the risk of destabilising the grid and causing the network to fail.

“Therefore, this is where smart connected technologies like smart meters and advanced analytics can provide a powerful tool to tackle this challenge,” he added.

He noted that consumer insight does not just offer an opportunity for individuals but can be aggregated to help operators more accurately predict electricity demand.

“Increasingly complex forecasting algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will also play a part in managing this important balance,” he explained.

Benefits of A Modern Grid

Modern grids serve many advantages — namely enhanced efficiency, ability to identify faults, renewable energy (RE) integration, meet growing demand, smarter oversight, reduce costs and balance prices — for customers in the long run.

Upgrading to smart grid networks and modern transmission lines means reducing electricity losses from things like older cabling, faulty lines and even theft.

“Efficient transmission because we benefit from more of the electricity we generate. That is particularly valuable in the context of energy efficiency and making the most of the resources we have,” Husaini said.

Secondly, identifying faults is essential to ensure consumers receive their electricity in a trusted and reliable way.

Modern grid infrastructure uses digital technology to quickly identify and pinpoint the source of a fault, be it a lightning strike or a tree falling on a line, smart grids allow operators to better identify and fix the issue at its source.

Meanwhile, growing the share of renewables is a vital part of any modern electricity ecosystem. While the cost of these technologies is now increasingly competitive, they do create challenges in key parts of power generation like predictability and bi-directional, intermittency and variability.

RE such as wind and solar represent “variable” generation technology. When they generate power, it could fluctuate from one hour to the next depending on factors such as the strength of the wind or sunlight.

Smart grid technologies offer a sophisticated way for grids to identify and balance RE generation, quickly adapting to generation conditions and helping balance electricity supply with electricity demand.

This variable generation also creates a technical challenge for integration. The “fluctuations” in variable renewable power generation act almost like a ripple effect on the system — the greater the RE share, the more fluctuation — growing these ripples until they become waves large enough to disrupt system operations.

Modernisation means investment in a grid which deals with increasing levels of renewable penetration with no disruption. This includes smarter grid systems and the adoption of emerging battery storage technologies to stabilise the system.

Electricity demand is also increasing across South-East Asia at a rate twice the global average. This growing demand makes it even more important to have modern power infrastructure to match it from high-volume transmission lines to smart grid technology.

The fifth benefit is smarter oversight. Digital technologies can provide new solutions for operators, combining key elements of demand through technologies such as smart meters, which provide data on how much and when electricity is consumed.

This is supported by a growing understanding of supply through innovative technologies such as AI predicting and optimising electricity generation.

This approach will increase visibility with the data-driven decision and the ability to make a more accurate decision. Hence, it will boost oversight which means decision-makers have the information at their fingertips to make decisions about the electricity ecosystem.

Improved grid infrastructure can also reduce costs for operators. The ability to quickly identify faults reduces costly manual processes in identifying problems. Improved efficiency means fewer losses and more “value for money” from energy generation.

“As we look to the future, better RE integration also means a growing ability to adopt these cost-competitive technologies efficiently.

“All these factors combined contribute to reduced wastage of generated electricity thanks to improved transmission efficiency, alongside lower grid maintenance costs, thus cutting costs for operators,” Husaini noted.

Customers will also see the long-term benefits of reduced costs in energy transmission networks and improved renewable integration.

Although modernisation of grid infrastructure requires investment, demanding upfront capital to drive through transformation, the long-term efficiency and maintenance savings should ultimately help contribute towards keeping prices low for customers.

Lastly, security means networks with the latest cybersecurity software to protect from outside threats including hackers. Security is a reliable supply that ensures vital industries and businesses can trust in the electricity supply that keeps them running.

Security is also a backbone for a national energy infrastructure fit for the future, ready to adopt the latest in renewable technologies, which ensures an optimised energy ecosystem that promotes energy efficiency and reliable power for a nation.

Grid modernisation is an essential part of any modern economy. It is part of balancing the energy trilemma; to provide a safe and reliable electricity supply in an environmentally sustainable manner and at a cost that is equitable for all stakeholders.

It is also a key turning point of a successful energy transition. A smart and modern grid infrastructure will boost reliability and support business operations, ensure secure power for citizens and enable Malaysia to manage a sustainable energy transition for the future.