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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Leading up to a September 17 webinar with Alectra, Navigant and Enbala, Navigant's Peter Asmus provides insights on some of the topics to be covered in the webinar.
Alectra, the second largest municipal utility in North America, was the first utility to develop a microgrid offering for its customers. It developed a small, commercial-scale microgrid and then a utility-scale microgrid, the latter at its own headquarters at Cityview in Vaughan, Ontario. This utility-scale microgrid integrates a variety of distributed energy resources (DERs) while also featuring the ability to island, if necessary, to maintain reliability at a site that includes Alectra’s center of operations.
This utility-scale microgrid was focused on the internal optimization of these assets to create a reliable optimization network. As Alectra looks out into the future, however, it realizes that it had to build the business case to provincial regulators about why ratepayer investments in control of BTM assets provided value to all distribution network ecosystem stakeholders, including those with DERs and those without.
Guest blogger Peter Asmus of Navigant Research posts this week about virtual power plants, distributed energy resources management systems, microgrids — and the way in which Alectra is bringing them all together to meet its customers energy needs and its own grid reliability requirements.
Electricity is a multidimensional product that requires constant fine-tuning. Otherwise, the lights go out, resulting in substantial lost economic activity. The challenge of accomplishing this task has become increasingly difficult as the fleet of distributed energy resources (DERs) begins to take over electricity resource pools. Beginning in 2018, annual centralized power resources began to give way to distributed generation and a more diverse DER mix. I noted last year that this transition was likely.
The world is changing. This isn’t news, of course. In fact, it’s rather old news – the world has changed. And the composition of the power grid has changed along with it. More roofs have solar panels. More garages house electric vehicles. The devices consumers plug into outlets have radically different load profiles than the devices of previous generations. Today there is an increased prevalence of wind farms, smart inverters, batteries and many other distributed energy resources (DERs) at the grid edge.
All these DERs offer tremendous potential through control and optimization. But while this capability presents copious opportunities, it also creates a few headaches, particularly for grid operators, often miles away (literally and figuratively) from where the DERs are located.
Yet DERs are becoming so entrenched in the daily operations of the grid that it’s tempting to ponder just where their limitations lay. With advancements in technology and business models, many innovators are looking to increase value from DERs, which leads to the latest question surrounding the capabilities of these assets: Can DERs play in utility and wholesale markets?
For more than 100 years utilities have supplied electrical power to customers and have done so with good reliability. The principle is simple. Loads may do as they wish. They may be random or intermittent and generally are not individually monitored by the utility. Generation, on the other hand, MUST be both dispatchable and monitorable, and electric system operators must be able to manage the real and reactive power from a generator.
Historically, utilities have become very adept at managing generation capacity to maintain a continuous balance between supply and demand. But today, the world is faced with a need to reduce or even eliminate carbon emissions, which complicates the supply-demand balance. Most electricity in the US, for example, is generated by burning fossil fuel. This needs to change, along with change to the electricity supply system and the direct customer use of fossil fuel. We are looking to remove the steady performers, and to replace them with supplies that are intermittent and perhaps random, all the time maintaining a balance between supply and demand.