Energy supply transformation needed

04. December 2012 | Markets & Trends, Industry & Suppliers, Top News | By:  Shamsiah Ali-Oettinger

A lot that needs to be done to enable the transition towards larger shares of renewables in the power mix. The 5th International Conference on Integration of Renewable Energy and Distributed Energy Resources, which opened today in Berlin, Germany, brought together global participants from the energy sector to discuss the transformation of the power system, the challenges that lie ahead and the solutions.

Grid integration has evolved to be one of the pressing topics in today's renewable energy scene.

"Can we have 100% renewable power at all? Yes. Do we have the solutions to implement it? Yes. But we have to apply these solution effectively at low costs," said conference chairman Phillip Strauss from the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy Systems Technology at the conference.

Grid integration has evolved to become one of the pressing topics in today's renewable energy scene. With deployment activity taking place worldwide at the moment, including large-scale demonstration and commercial projects, efficient grid integration and smart grid technologies are also gaining ground on the research and development front.

Smart grids and smart meters are seen as solutions to deliver a better power management system, with renewable power integration. Strass explained that a smart meter is akin to a decentralized energy metering unit, one that reacts to price signals. And he believes that in the future, such an energy manager would help to save money.

Michel Losier from PowerShift Atlantic added that a smart grid is all about the customers. It dynamically links demand and supply of electricity and this process has to involve the end-customer and have all stakeholders working together.

However, a great many smart meters are still being used in a basic way, at least in the U.S., explains Abraham Ellis from Sandia National Laboratories. There are many steps and numerous players involved in more dynamic implementation.

Data security was a theme that was introduced in the opening stages of the conference discussions. The big issues highlighted by Ellis are privacy and system security. With a smart meter in every home, the usage patterns can be observed by third parties and this becomes a privacy issue for many homeowners. On a larger level, there is a possibility of people manipulating the load maliciously. Ellis, hence, believes that these systems need to get past such privacy and security issues.

The US case

Ellis talks about how in the U.S., renewable power is being implemented on a large-scale. "It is a little behind Germany, but in the U.S. scenario we are adapting to handle possible problems, such as those that have already happened in Europe for example," he said.

The U.S. grid is a relatively ageing one and this raises the question of whether the uptake of renewable power can be supported by the grid. Ellis explained that the statement is only partially true. "There are certain parts of the grid that are very old. For example, that in the New York city area. It is very difficult to upgrade since it is a highly populated area. But it is a well-functioning system for the most part. The cost of PV deployment in many places is not very high. We do not have to worry about congestion on distribution systems because PV ends up displacing a little bit of the load. There is plenty of room for PV distribution. There are some problems with voltage, it tends to be a little high. These can be resolved easily."

The areas in the U.S. with the most sun and wind power also happen to be those areas where there are fewer people, said Ellis. The load therefore is in distant from these sources. "We have to develop more capacity to tap those resources in the middle of the country," he adds.

The solar resources are concentrated in the southwest of the United States. The capacity factors are also good. But the western parts of the U.S. overall have only about 20% of the entire load. "To go from the western part of the grid to the eastern parts is very hard in terms of transfer capacity. That is the problem we have in terms of grid and renewables: capacity at the large scale," Ellis elaborated.

In terms of batteries being a viable boost for renewables, Ellis believes that cost per unit of energy is higher. "The electricity system in the U.S. is so diverse that  the kinds of services that a battery can provide can be generated by controlling the existing generation fleet in a better way. Or you can find it by allowing the load to participate in grid support services. Tapping the flexibility that is already existent in the system is less expensive than other storage solutions," he explains.

Transforming the power system

In a major PV growth market like Japan, Kazuhiko Ogimoto from the University of Tokyo explained, the switch to renewables is seen as necessary since the Fukushima disaster raised more energy supply awareness amongst the people. PV has also been growing and the power mix is on a transformation path in Japan.

Germany has been the forerunner in renewable power as well as grid integration and smart grid solutions. Strauss highlighted that subsidies have been reduced drastically and thus special measures now have to be implemented for integration, without which transmission costs can rise. The cost of grid adaption can be controlled with the application of the right technologies such as integrated inverters for one as Strauss pointed out.

Losier commented that end-to-end solutions need to be sought to integrate more renewable power into the grid over time and this is precisely what the conference aims to do: discuss the possible solutions.

At the end of the day, the transformation of the power systems depends on factors such as policy, politics, resources and technical possibilities. Better interaction and cooperation with customers is also seen as a must in the future of energy transformation. Justifying the deployment of such technologies to make the grid smarter and to integrate more renewables in the short term will mean explaining the costs that come along with it.

Tomorrow the conference continues, highlighting achievements in technology, system integration, modeling and simulation as well as the lessons that can be learned from island system solutions. Advanced transmission and distribution system operations will be discussed in the latter part of the day.

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