Changes in electric network design essential, conference hears

October 1st, 2019, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Energize, Featured: Energize

The energy system of the future will be ubiquitous, diverse, complex and diversified. This is the view of a panel drawn from a number of experts representing companies active in the British and European energy sectors.

Speaking at the recent Solar & Storage Live event in Birmingham, England, the panel concluded that the way in which electricity will be generated, transmitted and used will change dramatically in the coming years. The benefits of distributed generation include the reduction of transmission losses and the need for less transmission infrastructure with associated financial savings.

Fig. 1: The panel (from left): Candice Saffrey, Dr Frank Meyer, Matthew Billson, Iain Miller, and Emeka Chukwureh.

The panel comprised Emeka Chukwureh, EnelX; Iain Miller, Northern Power Grid; Matthew Billson, BEIS; Dr Frank Meyer, E.ON; and Candice Saffrey, Bia. Ana Barillas, representing Aurora Energy Research, who chaired the panel, said that the industry plans to install up to 260 GW of renewable energy generating capacity by 2050. This, she says, could cost as much as £9-billion per year.

Chris Hewett

In his address, Chris Hewett, of the Solar Traders Association in the UK, said that government policy is no longer driving the change from fossil fuels to renewable energy, industry is. He said that he knows of a company which is building a 50 MW solar plant without a PPA. It plans to sell the electricity it generates on demand to help to reduce the use of gas-fired peakers.

Although the country’s goal is to be net carbon-neutral by 2050, as things are going, they’ll miss the target, Hewett said, so more has to be done to accelerate the uptake of renewable energy.

According to this panel of experts, the rapidly declining cost of solar PV and energy storage systems means that each distributed system can mitigate against the variability inherent in renewable energy systems by increasing the number of panels and the capacity of the installed storage system.

These distributed systems can be scaled to suit the application, from small domestic systems to large installations for commercial or industrial sites. However, to ensure price competitiveness through economies of scale, standards must be in place to guarantee interoperability between different equipment manufacturers.

Interoperability, Chukwureh said, means reconfiguring distribution networks from single- to multi-directional grids. He said that the energy system should learn from and emulate the internet model which has grown exponentially because the standards allowed multiple players to design and install equipment simultaneously. Thus, energy systems cannot be siloed, unique or company specific. Like open-source software, the requirements for connection to the grid must be readily and freely available to ensure maximum participation at lowest cost.

To this end, Iain Miller said, changes in network design will result from changes in standards and policies rather than technological developments. This was confirmed by Candice Saffrey who has worked in the residential solar market since the early 2000s. She said that software, standards and policies will have a greater effect on the future of the energy system than hardware will.

Networks must change to accommodate the new reality. New networks must accept and deliver power from and to different points. Existing networks understand multiple points of load but are less accustomed to multiple points of power input. For this reason, networks are not always as resilient as they should be. This is exacerbated by the fact that renewable energy lacks the inertia present in rotating machine generation. Battery storage, in the right capacity, can resolve this.

The energy system of the future will include multiple points of generation input, might be islanded or connected to a larger grid, will include diverse forms of generation, both remote and local, and both mobile and stationary.

According to Miller, electric vehicles will add a new dynamic to the system of the future by introducing a load as they charge in one geographic location and a generation source as they discharge in another location. For example, if someone charges their EV at they place of work and discharge it at home during the evening peak. The vehicle could then be recharged during the night after the period of peak demand when electricity tariffs are cheaper.

Although government policy and standards will be major drivers in the energy system of the future, public demand for cost-effective clean energy will impact the industry. Ultimately, electric system operators and utilities will have to adapt their systems and networks to accommodate market trends and demands, Miller said.

Governments should work in concert with public demand by offering incentives or tax-breaks to stimulate the growth in clean energy generation, Chukwureh said. Time-of-use tariffs which make grid-sourced electricity expensive during times of peak demand will encourage people to invest in local battery storage devices.

The panel concluded by saying that in the end analysis, people don’t care about energy. They care about the benefits energy gives them: the ability to heat their homes and businesses, cook their meals, be able to use modern computing and communication equipment for entertainment or profit. Furthermore, they care about the cost of energy, in both monetary and environmental terms.

The energy system of the future will comprise sophisticated networks which will transfer energy from multiple points of generation to multiple points of load. It will carry electricity at a predetermined frequency, as it does now, but the direction in which it flows may vary throughout any given period as loads change. Stationary batteries will change the shape of demand, flattening the peaks and rising the valleys. EVs will introduce unpredictable points of load as they charge and sources of energy as they are used to assist in meeting a specific load. These changes, which are happening rapidly, present a challenge to network operators who can no longer rely on the status quo.

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