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In My View

The Smart Grid

Does It Have a Role in Wind Integration?

A core part of our educational activities at the Electricity Research Centre (ERC), based in University College Dublin, Ireland, includes an innovative undergraduate summer educational program: Energy Needs Ireland (ENI). This year’s ENI group consists of 21 undergraduates ranging in disciplines from Electrical Engineering, to Earth Science and Business (Etain Ryan is the representative of the 21 ENI students). They are working in collaboration with the Smart Grid Innovation Hub, a joint EirGrid (Irish Transmission System Operator) and National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) initiative. The students are focusing on the question of the value of the smart grid, both globally and specifically for Ireland.

As a synchronous power system, the island of Ireland has arguably the highest wind penetration in the world. Therefore, with the ENI focus and the request by Charlie Smith to write this column on the smart grid’s role in wind integration, I could not ignore the opportunity to get a head start from the students. Upon entering this program with no preconceived ideas about the smart grid, and indeed with little or no knowledge of it, all the ENI students were tasked with writing their own collective version of this column.

The students’ view was that “for the most part, the smart grid does have a role in wind integration,” and I would concur with this. Interestingly, the first specific application they cited was “the aim of smart grids to improve weather predictability technology, which has a vital role in wind integration.”

The students then continue by stating that “we must remember that the smart grid involves more than simply the use of modern information and communication technology but also the general idea of being ‘smart’ with our resources and, in this case, their location.” They go on to describe how important it is to develop renewable resources in locations where they are plentiful and “that countries with less wind may need other sources of energy.” It is then identified that large-scale transmission is needed for the benefits of aggregation and “the ability of a smart grid to facilitate the exportation and importation of electricity (that) would facilitate a more reliable source of renewable energy and reduce the need for expensive energy storage facilities.”

Furthermore, their work clearly identifies the economic benefits of renewable energy at the large, continental scale, reflecting the views of many in Europe, North America, and elsewhere on the benefits of large-scale transmission. They identify the benefits of high-voltage direct current (HVdc) technology in these proposals due to its suitability for large energy transfers over long distances and its potential controllability. The suitability of burying HVdc is also noted, as it may have advantages in areas where overhead transmission is not acceptable. The students, however, do not mention the additional costs and technical challenges of these HVdc initiatives.

Additionally, it is noted that the “system operator must have a greater knowledge of what exactly is happening at all areas of the grid” and that there is a need for real-time data to be available across expansive distances to facilitate these large-scale transmission developments. Furthermore, they observe that “greater cooperation is required between the transmission system operators (TSOs) and the distribution system operators (DSOs)” and “perhaps the combination of TSO and DSO operations within a centralized control center would enable better communications and cooperation.” This point is certainly echoed by concrete actions in, for example, Europe where ENTSO-E (European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity) is coordinating efforts to integrate wind and other renewables to help meet European renewable targets. In the case of Ireland, DSO and TSO collaboration around wind integration is strong and growing, showing that the ENI students’ instincts are correct.

Finally, the students address the consumer, a point at which many others would start when describing smart grids, indicative, in my view, of its relative importance with respect to the other smart initiatives mentioned above. They suggest that “the price can be linked to supply, decreasing when there is more wind energy on the grid, and hence encouraging use of electricity in times of high wind penetration.”

Clearly their interpretation of the smart grid is expansive and is not limited to some of the more stereotypical definitions of a smart grid that may miss the real opportunities such a grid could afford. They have also recognised that the concept itself is more important than the physical realization: “it is smart grid’s aims and ideas, as opposed to smart grid itself, which plays a role in wind integration.”

However, they may have missed an even more expansive and potentially important aspect of the smart grid: smart integrated energy systems. There are multiple energy and energy related subsystems that are sufficiently interconnected such that you cannot adequately address one without impacting the others. Integration of wind into grids can be greatly assisted by making the entire energy system “smart.” For example, heat networks are emerging as a source of flexibility and energy storage for the grid.

One other area of “smartness” that the students may have overlooked is the coordination of policies to support the development of wind and other renewable energy sources (in particular solar photovoltaic). I am aware of many detailed examples of this globally, but the most obvious, in my view, is that there is little point in having wind targets without appropriate targets to build the required infrastructure, in particular transmission.

In conclusion, being smart does have a role in wind integration and the grid is obviously central to this. Therefore, smart grids do have a role in wind integration. Yet, the smart, dynamic, and positive attitude of the young, upcoming generation may have an even bigger role to play.

Clearly their interpretation of the smart grid is expansive and is not limited to some of the more stereotypical definitions of a smart grid that may miss the real opportunities such a grid could afford. They have also recognized that the concept itself is more important than the physical realization: “it is smart grid’s aims and ideas, as opposed to smart grid itself, which plays a role in wind integration.”

However, they may have missed an even more expansive and potentially important aspect of the smart grid: smart integrated energy systems. There are multiple energy and energy-related subsystems that are sufficiently interconnected such that you cannot adequately address one without impacting the others. Integration of wind into grids can be greatly assisted by making the entire energy system “smart.” For example, heat networks are emerging as a source of flexibility and energy storage for the grid.

One other area of “smartness” that the students may have overlooked is the coordination of policies to support the development of wind and other renewable energy sources (in particular solar photovoltaic). I am aware of many detailed examples of this globally, but the most obvious, in my view, is that there is little point in having wind targets without appropriate targets to build the required infrastructure, in particular transmission.

In conclusion, being smart does have a role in wind integration, and the grid is obviously central to this. Therefore, smart grids do have a role in wind integration. Yet, the smart, dynamic, and positive attitude of the young, upcoming generation may have an even bigger role to play.

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