Can Synthetic Inertia from Wind Power Stabilize Grids?

p1110724As renewable power displaces more and more coal, gas, and nuclear generation, electricity grids are losing the conventional power plants whose rotating masses have traditionally helped smooth over glitches in grid voltage and frequency. One solution is to keep old generators spinning in sync with the grid, even as the steam and gas turbines that once drove them are mothballed. Another emerging option will get a hearing next week at the 15th International Workshop on Large-Scale Integration of Wind Power in Vienna: synthetic inertia.

Synthetic inertia is achieved by reprogramming power inverters attached to wind turbines so that they emulate the behavior of synchronized spinning masses.

Montréal-based Hydro-Québec TransÉnergie, which was the first grid operator to mandate this capability from wind farms, will be sharing some of its first data on how Québec’s grid is responding to disruptive events such as powerline and power plant outages. “We have had a couple of events quite recently and have been able to see how much the inertia from the wind power plants was working,” says Noël Aubut, professional engineer for transmission system planning at Hydro-Québec. Continue reading

Renewable Minigrids Should Be the End Goal for Rural Poor

The percentage of population with grid access declined in many of the 20 least-electrified nations between 2010 & 2012. Image: SE4ALL

Distributed energy solutions, such as rooftop solar, should be the electrification solution for the 1.1 billion people who are not plugged into a national power grid, not just a stopgap measure. That is the message from a new global industry group, Power for All, launched in New York City this week amidst the latest gathering of the United Nations’ universal energy access program.

Power For All brings together businesses and not-for-profit organizations that distribute off-grid solutions, including solar-LED lights and home power systems. Founding members include San Francisco-based d.light; Arusha, Tanzania-based Off Grid Electric; and London-based NGO SolarAid—owner of solar-LED light global market leader SunnyMoney, which sold 650,000 lights last year.

Their message is that bottom-up distributed energy solutions should be thepreferred solution for assuring universal access to electricity because they are faster, cleaner, and cheaper than extending power grids to rugged or sparsely-populated regions.

Figures released this week by the joint UN-World Bank energy access program—Sustainable Energy for All—lend credence to Power for All’s argument. Continue reading

Could Europe’s New Grid Algorithm Black-out Belgium?

Elia's 4cast app alerts Belgians to blackout threats

Elia’s 4cast app alerts Belgians to blackout threats

Two of the big European power grid stories from 2014 were the software-enabled enlargement of the European Union’s common electricity market and a spate of nuclear reactor shutdowns that left Belgium bracing for blackouts. Those developments have now collided with revelations that the optimization algorithm that integrates Europe’s power markets could potentially trigger blackouts.

The flaw resides, ironically, in a long-anticipated upgrade to Europe’s market algorithm. This promises to boost cross-border electricity flows across Europe, expanding supplies available to ailing systems such as Belgium’s. Earlier this month market news site ICIS reported that the upgrade, in the works since the launch of market coupling in 2010, has been delayed once again Continue reading

Time to Rightsize the Grid?

Does Size Matter Source CarrerasLast week a team of systems scientists known for counter-intuitive insights on power grids delivered a fresh one that questions one of the tenets of grid design: bigger grids, they argue, may not make for better grids. University of Iowa electrical engineering professor Ian Dobson and physicists David Newman and Ben Carreras make the case for optimal sizing of power grids in last week’s issue of the nonlinear sciences journal Chaos.

In a nutshell, the systems scientists use grid modeling to show that grid benefits such as frequency stabilization and power trading can be outweighed by the debilitating impacts of big blackouts. As grids grow larger, they become enablers for ever larger cascading blackouts. The Northeast Blackout of 2003 was a classic case. From a tripped line in northern Ohio, the outage cascaded in all directions to unplug more than 50 million people from western Michigan and Toronto to New York City. Continue reading

Solar PoweRING the Mediterranean

Areva's Bir Osta Milad substation in Libya copycreditpeterfairley2008Engineers working in the teeming cities and lonely deserts of North Africa are creating the last links in a power grid that will ring the Mediterranean Sea. Sharing electricity over this ‘Mediterranean Ring’ could secure Europe’s power supply with clean renewable energy, accelerating North Africa’s development and knitting together two worlds that seem to be racing apart — those of Muslim North Africa and an increasingly xenophobic Europe.

We make the case for all this unabashed optimism in Closing the Circuit – a feature story in this month’s issue of Spectrum. Closing the Circuit is the product of two years of on-again, off-again research that came to fruition with on-site reporting in Libya and Morocco this summer.

The timing is fortuitious: North African countries – in many ways among the most progressive in the Muslim world – face a rising threat of Islamic fundamentalism, including increasingly deadly attacks by Al Qaeda-aligned militants. Economic development and democratization are the best hope for a North African renaissance. At the same time Europe’s growing dependence on Russian oil and gas and desire to slash carbon emissions has intensified interest in North Africa’s energy resources.

The scale of the potential exchange is immense: Analyses by the German government estimate that solar power generated in scorching North Africa could meet Germany’s entire electricity demand. No wonder then that the Union for the Mediterranean launched by French president Nicolas Sarkozy this summer to spur cooperation between Europe and North Africa is fleshing out a “Mediterranean solar plan” as one of its first actions.

The geopolitical and social import could be bigger. Consider what Dominique Maillard, President of French grid operator Réseau de Transport de l’Electricité, said when asked last month what the Mediterranean Ring represents during an interview last month for the European Energy Review. Maillard began his response by noting that the electrical interconnections between the European countries got started in 1951 – well before the signing of the Treaty or Paris, which created a European coal and steel market, and before the Treaty of Rome in 1957. “At the dawn of Europe, energy – and even electrical energy – had therefore already preceded politics,” says Maillard.

The implication by extension is clear: Electrical interconnection can be the forerunner for peaceful codevelopment among the countries of the Mediterranean, even including Israel. Call it informed optimism. 

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This post was created for EnergywiseIEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate