In this response to Greg Clark MP, Founder & Chief Technology Officer Matthew Williams and Chief Economist & Head of Government Affairs Richard Dowling together challenge the idea that the Energy Trilemma is “over” and examine how greater amounts of renewables will affect energy security and energy equity, should there be no change to the current grid.
The increasing focus on renewable energy sources and low carbon technologies is triggering a substantial shift in the automotive industry. Supported by government policies and public interest, the number of electric vehicles are swiftly increasing, exceeding predictions year to year. Is the electricity system ready to cater for such a vast new demand?
WHITE PAPER ATTACHED
The secure operation of modern electricity networks is becoming an increasingly difficult task as grids continuously employ complex interconnections, intermittent non-dispatchable renewable generation, and nonlinear loads. While these actions aim to improve power system reliability and meet sustainable energy requirements, they significantly reduce the system’s fault tolerance, inertia, and damping levels. The Faraday Exchanger (FE) technology delivers key technical and economic benefits, as demonstrated through results obtained from detailed simulations on numerous electrical networks from various countries.
What is the "Energy Trilemma"? The Energy Trilemma presents three interconnected goals that have proven exceedingly difficult to address individually. Recent history has shown that unilateral actions taken to address one dimension of the trilemma often results in undesirable reactions on the other dimensions. Hence it is currently not practical to simultaneously install new low carbon generation, ensure affordable energy for consumers, and guarantee that there will be security of electricity supply accounting for future demand.
Australian innovator Faraday Grid announced today in Paris as finalist in global Energy Productivity Innovation Challenge (EPIC) 2016. The COP21 meeting in 2015 in Paris marked a significant commitment to set global goals for energy efficiency targets. It was also the venue for the launch of the EPIC program. CEO Andrew Scobie, Director of R&D Matthew Williams, and CMO Jacqui Porch were in Paris at the IEA Conference for the awards announcement on the 13th of October.
The intention of policy makers to reduce greenhouse emissions is a story of incentives. It’s always a story of incentives - the question is, incentives for whom and at what cost? Incentives and waste; cost and benefits, can be seen as determining the productivity of public choice. As in all human endeavors means need to be fit to ends. So the institutions and infrastructure of the energy sector need to be enabled to deliver a low carbon future.
My plan to save the planet keeps bumping into the seen and the unseen. Almost no one would argue with the great lesson of the stoic philosopher Epictetus. The world divides into that which depends on me, and that which does not. For the stoics, the lesson was that I shouldn’t worry about that which I can’t control. Instead I should focus on making good choices over those things and events I can control. Right there is where the trouble begins.
Sep 5th 2015 | From the print edition
EARLIER this year, after months of planning, the managers of Europe’s electricity grid were ready for the biggest test so far of an energy system that increasingly relies on renewable power. That event was a partial solar eclipse on March 20th—and the “worst case scenario” was that it would take place on a sunny day, causing a sudden disruption of solar power, creating fluctuations that could damage the grid and anything connected to it.
At the centre of concern was Germany, with some of the world’s biggest solar installations. In 2014, almost 7% of Germany’s electricity was generated by solar panels, although on sunny weekdays the proportion can reach 35% and even 50% at weekends. The passing of the Moon between the Earth and the sun could have been equivalent to the loss of 80 medium-sized European power stations.
As it turned out, although the sun shone in southern Germany and northern Italy, cloudy skies elsewhere limited the eclipse’s impact. Even so, the European grid operators had to greatly increase the backup supplies normally on hand and turn off some energy-intensive processes, such as aluminium smelting. And then it had to cope with the surge in solar generation as the eclipse passed.
An eclipse is an extreme event, but as more homes, offices and factories fit solar panels and become, in effect, mini power plants feeding surplus electricity into the grid, engineers are having to perform a similar balancing act every day. Without careful monitoring, the intermittent nature of solar power—even with the sun passing briefly in and out of clouds—can lead to voltage surges and drops, causing brownouts and power cuts.
Moreover, maintaining a consistent level of power is now vital as modern digital devices, such as computers, televisions and equipment in factories, hospitals and offices, demand a steady voltage and frequency, unlike the clunky electronics of a few decades back.
To protect power quality some countries have placed restrictions on new solar installations. In Hawaii, for instance, sudden swings in electrical output have led to a slowdown in the issuing of solar permits. Australia has also placed constraints on new installations. Even some utilities in all-too-often overcast Britain have limited the amount of solar electricity which can be fed into the grid.
Companies are coming up with ways to maintain power quality. Some of the gear is based on inverters, which are used to convert the variable direct current produced by a solar panel into the alternating current on the grid. Renewable Energy Solutions Australia, for instance, makes a system called VoltLogic which can limit the amount of power exported to the grid from solar panels. This, the company says, allows new solar installations to be automatically approved by a number of Australian utilities.
Some utilities want such solar export-limiting equipment to respond to demand changes on the grid in less than one second, says Fraser Durham, commercial director of Argand Solutions, a British company. His firm produces a control system called GridGEM for companies using solar panels. This constantly analyses an organisation’s power use to determine when to buy electricity or to export any surplus according to a utility’s constraints. The system can also switch equipment on or off, channel any surplus renewable power into batteries and operate “private lines”, which are independent distribution networks which might be set up by a group of neighbouring companies to share locally produced solar power.
Saving some for later
Surplus renewable power could also be stored on the grid with beefier battery systems. Various technologies, from giant lead-acid batteries to pumping compressed air into caverns and letting it out to drive turbines, are being developed (see Technology Quarterly December 6th 2014).
Better batteries will also let businesses and homes store more of the power they generate instead of having to export it. Some of the advanced lithium-ion batteries Tesla will make for its electric cars at a giant factory in Nevada will also be sold as 10kWh and 7kWh storage units for domestic solar installations. Delivery of the first batteries, which will be contained in a unit called Powerwall, are scheduled to begin next year. Multiple Powerwalls can be connected together for sites with greater energy needs.
Instead of being a one-way line to deliver electricity, grids of the future will need to be smarter and more flexible to handle the distributed power systems being created by renewable energy.