Energy systems are changing. As variable renewable energy generation replaces retiring fossil fuel-run power plants, we see a shift from our century-old mindset of centralized supply following demand, to a more distributed grid with distributed energy resources (DERs) playing an essential role in a sustainable energy future. In order for renewable energy resources and DERs to replace conventional power plants, they need to be able to act like power plants – virtually at least.
At technology and innovation’s finest hour, we are able to aggregate disparate, geographically dispersed DERs and orchestrate them in such a way that they are able to respond to the grid’s needs at the same speed and accuracy as a traditional power plant. That’s where the Virtual Power Plant (or VPP for short) comes in. Navigant Research defines a VPP as:
“… a system that relies upon software and a smart grid to remotely and automatically dispatch retail DER services to a distribution or wholesale market via an aggregation and optimization platform”
VPPs are critical for the transition to more sustainable energy systems – so where is the technology at? Where can we find VPPs? And what can we expect in the future?
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Guest blogger Peter Asmus of Navigant Research posts this week about the vast potential for virtual power plants and distributed energy resources in Japan.
The first solar PV cell made in Japan was in 1955; the first solar PV panel was connected to the Japanese grid in 1978. Japan emerged as the global leader in solar cell production in 1999 and then solar power generation in 2004. Though solar PV provided only a small portion of Japan’s overall energy supply, it showed that the country’s regulators were investigating distributed energy resources (DERs) well before other markets globally.
Japan is at a crossroads. How does one leap into the future epitomized by the concept of the Energy Cloud while simultaneously maintaining the centralized generation status quo? The country is exploring how virtual power plants (VPPs) can help straddle this chasm, serving as a bridge from the past to the future.
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Three Things the Energy Industry Can Learn from Baseball Analytics
Summer is right around the corner, baseball season is underway and all 30 teams in the Major League Baseball were given a fresh start to compete for World Series glory. But the reality is that only a handful of them can truly say that the championship is within reach. According to the website Fangraphs, even before any games had started, there was more than an 80% chance that the World Series would be won by one of only six teams (the Yankees, Astros, Indians, Dodgers, Red Sox or Nationals).
What drives this gap between the elite teams and the others? Money is part of the answer. Big market teams can afford to pay for the game’s biggest all stars. But with just the 9thand 18thhighest payrolls in the league, how have teams like the Astros and Indians held their own against the league of elites? The answer is a combination of data analytics and good scouting.
Distibuted energy resources,
Guest blogger Peter Asmus of Navigant Research posts this week about the widening use of distributed energy resources around the world, virtual power plants and distributed energy resources management systems.
As distributed energy resources (DERs) continue to proliferate, so do the reliability challenges associated with the world’s aging grid infrastructure. The diversity of resources added to the power grid include plug-in EVs (PEVs) and rooftop solar PV coupled with energy storage devices at residences. As the grid was not designed for two-way power flows, these trends create challenges and opportunities for vendors and grid operators.
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Enbala founder Malcolm Metcalfe had the opportunity – and honor – of learning the answer to this question first hand when he met with Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month. Yep, he chatted with the Queen. At Windsor Castle. And it turns out that she shares a dream with Malcolm – the dream of a clean energy future where energy poverty no longer exists for the 1 billion people in the world who are living without electricity today and the 3.8 billion more whose energy sources are insufficient, unreliable, dangerous or prohibitively expensive.
Royal Victorian Order,
I recently reviewed an EPRI document that discussed storage, and by far the largest size storage systems were pumped storage plants. I wondered why they did not include hydro (non-pumped) storage, as this form of storage is far larger than any other form of storage that is available on the grid now.
Parts of North America, but sadly not all of it, are blessed with mountainous territory that has many rivers and streams that run downhill, and many of these have been harnessed for electricity production. While not specifically intended as storage plants when built, the value of their storage may well turn out to be larger than the value of the electricity that they may produce.
Consider a hydro dam that is 35 M in height with a reservoir that is 10 km2. Discharging the top 1 M of water through a generating station (90% efficient) would release almost 840 MWh of stored energy. This is a small hydro plant, with a small reservoir behind it, yet the storage is almost 840 MWh/M of depth that is drawn from the forebay. That is in addition to the electrical energy generated for use.
So how does a utility that has no pumps manage to store and return energy? The process is both simple and efficient.
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There is no doubt that we are facing real problems with climate, fossil fuels and carbon emissions, but as we look to solve these problems, I think that we need to look carefully at the underlying facts, rather than focusing (as some do) on the short-term elimination of fossil fuel.
- The biggest sources of emissions in the US are the generation of electricity from coal and transportation-related emissions (60% of which is for personal transportation). These two sources are responsible for more than 2/3 of total emissions. Canada is only slightly better, in that its electric system generates almost 60% of total energy with hydro, and nuclear is a large contributor to clean electricity as well. Canada’s petroleum industry ranks second, behind transportation.
- Electricity provides less than 20% of total energy, and the remainder is almost all fossil fuel. The average person gets fuel in three forms: electricity, natural gas and transportation fuel (gasoline or diesel fuel). Any major reduction in the direct delivery of fossil fuel will be expected to be replaced with electricity, and that may be a big challenge, given the fact that the electric grid at present delivers only about 20% of the total energy.
- Many people seem to think that if they can convert their current electricity use to solar energy, the problem will be solved. They tend to forget, however, about heating and transportation fuel. In most cases, the fossil fuel energy is far larger than the electrical energy delivered.
- I keep hearing that the problem is someone else’s fault – blame India, China, the oil industry or the government. We all need to look in the mirror – and recognize who the big users are. The fact is that North Americans are among the largest users of energy per capita in the world. As “Pogo” would have said, “We have seen the enemy, and it is us!”
There are two areas to look at: the supply of energy and the use of energy.
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Utilities and regulators evaluate grid modernization initiatives using economic paradigms. They determine if investments at the grid edge are cost effective relative to investments made in traditional generation, transmission and distribution assets. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently published a special report titled ‘Global Warming of 1.5°C’, with an accompanying Summary for Policymakers. The Summary stated that if global warming continues at its current rate, we will likely reach a 1.5°C increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST) compared to pre-industrial levels between the years 2030 and 2052. The Report and Summary provided a comparison of outcomes we can expect if GMST increases to 1.5°C versus 2.0°C. It also presented solutions to support limiting global warming to the smaller value.
Peak demand is the highest rate of electricity use. Fortunately, it only occurs a few times a year – usually on the hottest days of the year or on the very coldest days of the year, depending on your geography. Our power systems are prepared for these peaks (otherwise we risk potential blackouts), but as urban populations increase, and we add more variable renewable energy resources to our grid, we see more need to accommodate increases in peak demand. Traditionally, utilities would forecast demand in their service territories and resort to upgrading or building new peaking power plants to supply the anticipated increase in electricity demand. This solution tends to be land-intensive and has resulted in significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
Peak Demand Management,
At this year’s GridFWD conference delegates met for the first time in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, home of our Canadian headquarters. Enbala was present in full force, as a sponsor, panelist and moderator. The well-attended event covered a range of pertinent and enlightening topics including grid modernization and decarbonization.
One such discussion, moderated by Graham Horn, Enbala’s VP, Business Development, focused on the path from DER grid presence to VPP flexibility. Graham was joined by Jeremy Twitchell, Energy Research Analyst with Pacific Northwest National Labs (PNNL), J.P. Batmale, Division Administrator at the Oregon PUC, and Smriti Mishra, Strategic Partnership Manager with National Grid.
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