Obstacles and opportunities for key technologies of smart energy systems

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The use of low-carbon energy has increased globally, and smart energy systems are being developed to advance smart cities and achieve carbon neutrality. Dr Dongdong Zhang from Guangxi University, China, together with his collaborators, have identified obstacles and opportunities of six hotspot technologies for smart energy systems. This research aims to advance the sustainable development of society with the creation of smart energy systems. It addresses the shortfalls with a comparative analysis and introduces performance factors in terms of efficiency together with applications of the technologies supporting smart energy systems.
Global concern surrounding energy use is exacerbated by climate change and environmental pollution. These have recently been aggravated by both the outbreak of COVID-19 and the energy crisis. Across the world, renewable energy is being pursued together with the development of multiple energy sources. Information technology progresses at speed as the energy industry embarks on a dramatic transformation towards the panacea of zero-carbon emission. Intensifying energy conservation and reducing emissions globally calls for the assimilation of innovative energy and information technologies, together with the construction of an intelligent, information-transparent, connected smart multi-energy system. Globally, there is an increase in low-carbon energy use as smart energy systems are being developed to advance smart cities and realise carbon neutrality.

Dr Dongdong Zhang from the Department of Electrical Engineering at Guangxi University, China, and his collaborators have identified obstacles and opportunities of six hotspot technologies for smart energy systems (SESs). Their extensive literature review has shown that the power industry has fast-tracked their development of flexible distributed energy to contend with the issues surrounding environmental pollution, vast transmission distances, and the substantial energy loss accompanying conventional plans for large-scale centralised power.

Intelligent new energy power generation prediction technology of SESs.

Integrated energy system

Industry and academia alike welcome the integrated energy system combining energy production, storage, conversion, transportation, and consumption. The integrated energy system is significant in improving the power grid’s economy and flexibility with the efficient use of multiple energy sources. In addition to improving energy production and consumption methods, the integrated energy system provides a solution to the issues of randomness, high volatility, and the low energy flow density of renewable energy. The energy flow density denotes the energy flow that can be harnessed from a particular unit of volume, area, or mass. The energy flow density of renewable energy is considerably lower than that of fossil fuel; for example, solar energy has a density of 1.5 microjoules per cubic meter which is more than twenty quadrillion times less than oil’s 35–45 gigajoules per m3.

Innovative energy systems are being examined across the world. Many countries are carrying out research accelerating changes in both energy consumption and its structure, while promoting the creation of a contemporary low-carbon, clean, efficient, and safe energy system.

“Intensifying energy conservation and reducing emissions globally calls for the assimilation of innovative energy and information technologies.”

Smart energy systems

Integrating large-scale distributed new energy into the grid brings fresh challenges – including variable power quality, energy waste, low energy efficiency, and uncoordinated system operation. These issues are now being resolved at a technical level with advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technology facilitating the production of SESs. Employing technologies, for instance intelligent control, enables SESs to conduct real-time analysis and data integration from many sources. SESs establish more stringent resource allocation rules over multiple energy sources. These ensure the system operates efficiently and economically, and that it possesses the flexibility required by the diverse commercial applications relying on the network.

Smart energy system that incorporates a variety of key technologies.

Advantages and disadvantages

The researchers performed a detailed review of the literature, analysing and comparing the pros and cons discussed in recent articles reviewing SES technologies. SESs offer adaptable management for multi-energy control within a diverse range of settings. These can be unpredictable and harsh and deliver a greater diversity of energy sources and applications. Consequently, they are particularly suited to sustainable development of smart cities. This comparative study found several researchers already investigating the technology, concept, and use of SESs.

Technology developments provide new challenges and opportunities for SESs, although there is evidence of weaknesses in the concepts and discussions observed in the research. This research addresses these shortfalls in a comparative analysis and introduces performance characteristics in terms of efficiency together with the applications of six main hotpot technologies supporting SESs: new energy-generation prediction technology; demand-response technology; collaborative energy management of multiple energy flows; advanced energy-storage technology; information-exchange technology; and digital energy integration market and service mechanism.


Zhang and colleagues discovered that these new power system technologies face a number of challenges. New power generation production technology can predict performance to the minute or even the second. When faced with unanticipated extreme situations, however, the instability of new energy power generation in real time poses problems that can result in power outages. Furthermore, there are challenges surrounding the deployment of increasingly precise prediction technology in remote areas where intelligent technology remains underdeveloped.

There are currently two key issues with demand-response technology. Firstly, from the user’s perspective, sustainable energy is unpredictable, so the load analysis requires precision. Moreover, the effect of price sensitivity on the demand’s uncertainty and the impacts of multiple user interactions requires further consideration. Secondly, changes in pricing affect the use of various energy sources so a robust demand response multi-energy price mechanism is required.

Information exchange technology of SESs.

The collaborative management of multi-energy flow and energy conversion technology are crucial to the balanced running of SESs. Multi-energy flow collaborative management research tends to focus on establishing various models of energy flow, but there is relatively little work into controlling the direction of mutually coupled multi-energy flows. Furthermore, the coupling element’s dynamic characteristics and the energy lag receive little attention. The team advocates the integration of intelligent technology in order to achieve real-time energy conversion management and monitoring within the system, that can measure the effect of minor changes in real time and rapidly apply emergency response measures.

Advanced energy-system technology requires efficient storage of an assortment of energy to help manage the inherent uncertainty of energy use, distribution and production. Large-scale parallel storage is needed for multiple energy sources to improve the energy supply’s flexibility and reliability.

The increasingly diverse nature of the market means that more research is required into the breadth and depth of the application of communication technology within the digital energy market. This should focus on implementing transactions, improving security, preventing leaks of user information, and improving the digital energy market trading platform’s quality of service.


Taking a global viewpoint on realising carbon neutrality, the team examines the fundamental impediments to the advancement of an SES. They analyse these with reference to the social environment, technology constraints, extreme climate conditions, and human survival. Currently, prediction technology is concentrated on forecasting individual entities. Intelligent production technology is required to manage multiple uncertainties.

Digital-energy integrated market and service platform.

The major power outages in Texas during February 2021 illustrate the need for an SES to include an intelligent emergency-response system. This should be capable of providing stable energy supply and demand throughout extreme disasters. Likewise, intelligent energy requires technology unrestricted by geographical location if power distribution problems are to be avoided in isolated mountainous regions. Further R&D is essential to modify infrastructure for extreme climates, including consideration of factors such as location, materials, structure, and installation.

The extensive problem of social energy waste exemplifies the need to implement accurate control of energy consumption, a key factor in the creation of an SES. Different energy markets work on different time frames with various clearing criteria, so a joint planning solution that collaboratively organises many energy markets within a multi energy market is essential.

“Employing technologies, for instance intelligent control, enables SESs to conduct real-time analysis and data integration from multiple sources.”

The potential for new energy goes way beyond what is currently under development. New energy development and technology for its use are required if energy is to be gathered from diverse sources and still protect the environment. Further research into efficient advanced intelligent technologies that can handle the challenges posed by large-scale epidemics, such as COVID-19, is needed to construct SESs that can sustain a stable operation during a major disaster.

Developing SESs is a major step towards realising carbon neutrality, but the technology for normal and large-scale carbon capture and recovery is still in its initial stages – there are challenges surrounding its high cost, poor efficiency, and challenging application. Information conversion and transmission is essential for the operation of an SES; however, such information can easily be leaked or stolen. Countermeasures are needed to handle abnormal behaviour and ensure sensitive access across the process of information exchange.

Andrii Yalanskyi/Shutterstock.com


Zhang and his collaborators also explore the opportunities offered by the digital age. Government agencies are keen to encourage SES development within the framework of energy conservation and reducing emissions. The development of SESs should therefore be linked to national development goals. Large-scale renewable energy applications have promoted the development of advanced high-efficiency technologies, including materials for low-cost high-density long-life energy systems. Consequently, SES evolution must remain coupled to intelligent technology advancement. Moreover, SES development must continue to promote an innovative personalised service system and encourage demand-response precision service projects supported by user portraits to increase citizen participation.

In summary, this research aims to expand the development of sustainable society with the development of SESs. The researchers recommend that smart energy system research commences with a blend of practical application and technological innovation. Furthermore, the central technologies in SESs must recognise people’s livelihoods and their fundamental requirements if they are to evolve in a more diverse and intelligent direction.

What would you consider to be the most important factors in developing and implementing an SES?
The most important factors in the development and implementation of SES include the following two aspects:
i) smart energy system research should begin with a combination of technological innovation and practical application;
ii) key technologies in smart energy systems should consider the needs of people’s livelihoods to evolve in a more intelligent and diverse path, thus effectively promoting the sustainable development of society.



  • Zhu, H, Goh, H, Zhang, D, et al, (2022) Key technologies for smart energy systems: Recent developments, challenges, and research opportunities in the context of carbon neutrality. Journal of Cleaner Production, 331, 129809. doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.129809

Research Objectives

Dr Zhang identifies obstacles and opportunities of six hotspot technologies in smart energy systems.


This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (5210071288), the Guangxi Key Research and Development Program of China (2021AA11008), and the Guangxi Science and Technology Base and Talent Special Project of China (2021AC19120).


  • Hongyu Zhu
  • Hui Hwang Goh
  • Thomas Wu


Dr Zhang is currently associate professor and doctoral supervisor at the Department of Electrical Engineering, Guangxi University. He has long engaged in smart green energy management and energy-saving strategy research. He is involved in more than ten scientific research projects, and has published more than 50 SCI papers.

Dr Dongdong Zhang

School of Electrical Engineering, Guangxi University, Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China

E: DongdongZhang@yeah.net
T: +86 15929927679
W: prof.gxu.edu.cn/teacherDetails/310f5a8d-e1a8-4205-a784-d4c9761db9a9

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