A white paper released by Huawei and IDC has underlined how significant communication technologies will be in building the sustainable, carbon neutral energy grids of the future.

The white paper, titled “On Electric Power Communication All-Optical Network, Accelerating Digital Transformation of Electric Power”, was discussed at the Huawei Sub-Saharan Africa Electric Power Summit, which formed part of Enlit Africa 2023.

It underlines how the power communication network is the basis for automatic power grid dispatching, market-oriented network operations, and modernised management. Such a network, it says, is an important means to ensure secure, stable, and economical operations of the power grid as well as the core infrastructure of the power system.

The white paper further describes how to build an intelligent optical base for power communication networks based on the all-optical architecture. It also aims to help the electric power industry cope with digital challenges, meet technical requirements for digital transformation, and accelerate digital transformation.

“Digital technologies are vital to leading the transition to a more sustainable energy sector,” says Victor Guo, president of Huawei Sub-Saharan Africa enterprise business group. Using the expertise it’s gained from more than three decades in the communication sector, he added, Huawei ideally placed to “pave a digital way to a global energy transition.”

Edwin Diender, chief innovation officer” global electric power digitalisation business unit at Huawei Technologies concurs: “Energy transition and digital technology combined are able to drive us towards carbon neutrality. We want to leverage our experience in the worldwide web of communications into a worldwide web of energy.”

According to Diender, achieving that will require a mindset shift from many players in the energy sector.

“Where having a smart grid is often the end-stage for the energy industry and electric power companies, we see much more potential,” he says. “With such aspiration, the informatisation of the power grid becomes more significant, more meaningful. And this digital journey will lead to more sustainable future power systems.

“We’re looking at capabilities from our past and seeing how they can be applied to the energy sector.

Diender adds that utilities need to embrace that digital transformation is an ongoing journey that can’t be achieved as a one-off project or by adopting specific technologies. That journey starts with digitisation (eg. the switching from analogue to digital meters), moves on to digitalisation (building a network of smart meters), and ultimately results in full digital transmission (which might look like having full digital twins of every meter on the grid).

“Knowing and working with the right partner(s) with the right experience(s) and skillsets are key in helping to find the right technologies that drive the digital journey of the energy industry. At Huawei, we’ve got mature, commercially available, off-the-shelf technology building blocks that have proven their value over the years in different industries, including the energy industry.”

As Diender notes, a lot of existing communications technology can be repurposed to ensure a more sustainable, carbon neutral grid. “Parts of this journey have not been taken yet, but a lot of work has already been done,” he said. “There’s a lot of communication technology already within the energy industry.”

Taking this approach, he says, could also open up new revenue streams for utilities. They could, for example, use the technological backbone needed for digital transformation to become fibre to the home (FTTH) provider in partnership with internet service providers (ISPs). There is also potential from a data perspective.

“As an electricity provider, the amount of data you’re able to collect is far more than a cable company or mobile operator is able to.”

But for that technology to be used effectively and sustainably, partnerships will be crucial. “Alone you can go very fast, but together you can go much further,” Diender concludes.