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Is Diversity the Key to Grid Stabilization?

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Apr 6, 2021

I’ve read several analogies about the grid, it’s many problems and how those problems should be addressed. A recent Forbes article explained, ’Our grid was designed similarly to submarines – with separate compartments that can be isolated such that damage to one compartment does not automatically lead to the entire vessel sinking.’ Northwestern University physicist Adilson Motter used a choir to describe the need for a synchronized frequency to transmit energy.  ”It's a little bit like a choir without a conductor. The generators have to listen to others and speak in sync. They react and respond to each other's frequencies.”  There's no shortage of colorful expressions but more than words will be required.   Recent events have confirmed the need to revamp our approach and rebuild the grid.  Currently, electricity is supplied by three separate grids in the U.S. The Eastern interconnection, the Western interconnection and the Texas interconnection, interlinked by direct-current power lines; the later, still reeling from February’s grid failures.  Despite outages, these grids have a common goal.  Resilience and reliability. How can this be achieved with electricity supply and demand imbalances, cascading outages and the impedance of compartmentalization?  The answer: Diversity. 

However, there are several challenges involved with integrating and managing distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar and energy storage technologies.  Current methods of operation present their own challenges.  Compartmentalizing solves the problem of cascading failures but it also means that if part of the grid has an excess, it cannot easily be passed onto a nearby branch.

In a partnership with ComEd, American Superconductor (AMSC) tied three substations together with the Amperion cable to control flow and manage power more efficiently.  Admittedly, it’s not a one size fits all solution.  Amperion functions at around 70 degrees Kelvin which works out to -333 degrees Fahrenheit.  To get the cable down to that temperature requires the entire length of the linkages between each of the substations to be supercooled with liquid nitrogen by a specially trained team.  Not to mention the costs required for a project like that. A less costly endeavor is developing between the Department of Defense (DoD) and utilities.  For example, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii partnered with the Hawaiian Electric Company to construct a 50-megawatt power plant on land at Schofield Barracks.  The plant uses flexible generators capable of a quick start up, shut down or output change in response to sudden fluctuations in solar and wind energy resources. The DoD is installing renewable energy, microgrids, battery storage and other projects to help increase resilience, stability and security.

Would the integration of additional energy sources balance the grid and reduce the Duck Curve?

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Xisto Vieira Filho's picture
Xisto Vieira Filho on Apr 8, 2021

Thanks for your article, Nevelyn. You have raised a point of utmost importance. We can definetely say that diversification is the key issue for system security,adequacy and resilience. Most people are going only in the direction of only increasing renewables , trusting in the commercial availability of several technologies that actually are not available yet, for different purposes. But on the other hand , it is possible to properly balance the system with traditional generaion with CCUS, providing an adequate diversification, together with hydrogen, biogas, and so forth.

But diversification will be the best path to the medium to long term matrix expansion.

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