Connecting small energy producers to the power grid
EU-funded research offers policymakers and regulators opportunities to incorporate more small renewable energy producers into national power grids, benefitting both consumers and the environment.
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The EU policy and regulatory environment for electricity supplies is rapidly developing as part of the drive towards a Common Energy Market. A component of this is connecting widely distributed Renewable Energy Sources (RES) to the power grid.
The EU-funded INCREASE project has developed technologies to ensure the seamless incorporation of a multitude of such small suppliers, allowing policymakers and regulators to confidently support regional suppliers that aggregate and sell electricity from many small sources thereby raising profits while cutting costs and end user prices.
Traditionally, electricity flowed from a power station to individual consumers. But with many small and widely dispersed RES suppliers, this flow can become bi-directional and cause grid imbalances leading to power failures.
The complexity of controlling these flows means regional electricity distribution companies prefer to rely on a few, relatively large RES producers that are easy to manage. Smaller producers, such as households with photovoltaic panels, are therefore less well integrated into the grid because they are unprofitable for aggregators.
INCREASE research has shown how, by using a mixture of hardware and software control, this complexity can be overcome and profits can be made from a wider RES supplier base while benefiting both the environment and consumers.
The key question INCREASE answered is how to integrate more small RES producers into the national grid without too much expensive investment, says project coordinator Bart Meersman of the sustainable energy company S2ENSO in Belgium. INCREASE differed from other smart energy projects because we were the first to focus on regional, lower-voltage power distribution to and from end users and small producers.
Smart solutions for smart grids
A key understanding behind INCREASE is that in order to maximise available power in the grid, one sometimes has to limit its entry.
This is a sensitive area because people dont like to waste power, says Meersman. However, to be cost effective, and therefore to have a sustainable business model for power distribution, you must allow limitations on the feed-in of energy.
INCREASEs research had three elements:
INCREASE technologies were successfully field tested in real-life distribution networks in Austria, Slovenia, Belgium and the Netherlands and have been received with interest.
For example, US regulators are asking for solar inverters that support the power grid in the same way as those developed by INCREASE. German grid operators are moving towards better power injection control in order to maximise efficiency and, in Slovenia, a grid operator has adopted the superior control algorithms developed by the project.
The main outcome of INCREASE is our demonstration of new technical solutions that can enable commercial success, says Meersman. Better grid management and the provision of ancillary services allows regional aggregators to bring small producers into the grid profitably, thus boosting the implementation of RES and bringing more stability to national and cross-border transmission systems.