Integrating renewable energy into the grid safely and securely
The International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook 2019 report found that rising electricity demand was one of the key reasons why global CO2 emissions from the power sector reached a record high in 2018. This has led to an increased focus on cleaner power generation and the use of low emission renewable energy generation technologies.
Craig explains: “We are seeing a move away from the older, more polluting and carbon-producing conventional power stations, such as coal-fired facilities, to greener, sustainable sources such as wind and solar. This also includes clean gas turbine power and more modern nuclear generation, which when combined with carbon balancing schemes, enables power generation to be reliable, manageable and supports moving towards a carbon neutral position.”
However, balancing the energy system (i.e. ensuring that demand is met by supply) is still challenging as distributed energy sources (DES) make up a greater proportion of our energy mix. Distributed energy sources are small-scale power generation or storage technologies (typically in the range of 1 kW to 10,000 kW) used to provide an alternative to or an enhancement of the traditional power plants.
The threat of an imbalance between supply and demand is why the National Grid and other distribution networks spend vast sums of money developing enhanced forecasting systems and have a generation network that has a mix of continuous and rapid response generation capabilities. The use of transient energy sources also provides the case for other on-grid balancing systems such as battery storage, which can be used to smooth out the harder to manage energy peaks and troughs.
Craig explains: “In the past, conventional power stations generated energy at such a rate that they could have a big stabling impact upon the grid and bring the system back into balance should an incident occur.”
“However, smaller DES are unable to implement system balancing services in the same way, and this has the potential to result in system imbalance, and power outages. This highlights the benefit of more flexible energy generation and storage on the grid, implemented across connected distributed systems that can rapidly respond to changes in supply and demand.”
Craig continues: “We know how tightly coupled and interconnected modern life is with the electricity grid. And, the downside of being connected is we are much more vulnerable to disruptions when incidents occur.”
Any blackout today, even if it lasted just 45 minutes would affect millions of consumers and could easily lead to days of disruption afterwards, such as on the rail networks, airports hospitals and other critical infrastructure.
How Thales Ebbw Vale is playing a key role
Thales Ebbw Vale is working to make the modern energy system more resilient and adaptive so that DES can support the stability of the grid.
“Big data will play an important role, allowing the flow of information from multiple parties, such as smart meters and weather forecasts to facilitate dynamic adjustments to energy provision in response to real-time operational conditions,” says Craig.
“We are also researching how we can coordinate distributed energy supplies so that together, they can act in the same way as conventional power stations and provide balance when instability occurs. Ensuring that they are resistant to cyber-attacks is another key area of focus.”
Craig concludes: “Thales stands out in our ability to help customers due to our deep engineering heritage in developing and supporting critical national infrastructure. This provides us with knowledge and understanding of the mechanics of these systems and their operations, which we can pair with our expertise in cyber resilience and trust to deliver value that is not found elsewhere.”