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Flexible Grids

Power grid expansion & upgrading is critical to meeting climate targets [DNV, 2023]

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The electric grid has evolved since the 2000s adding more and more intelligence to the grid, becoming a "smart grid".  Today, many IT-based automated systems (and associated field devices) work together to manage and integrate the energy subsystems (generation, transmission, distribution, and storage).

  

More recently, climate agenda has pushed the adoption of variable renewable energy (VRE) sources, which are (much) more complicated to be integrated into the power grid.  In this scenario, the grid must be able to handle intermittent power output of VREs, as well as variable, bidirectional energy flows between generation units & consumer's units, meaning that a "new" power grid must be built.

 

Solar & wind: these are the new building blocks of the power grid of tomorrow increasingly replacing the synchronous generators, compromising the grid frequency stability and rendering traditional inertia response mechanisms (based on energy stored in large rotating generators) and analysis methods insufficient.

  

Flexibility concerns the power systems ability to manage changes (in supply & demand).  Many techs contribute to grid flexibility [DD, 2023]:

  

  • Constant renewables, such as hydropower.

  • Utility-scale storage, such as pumped hydro and molten salt.

  • Small-scale storage, such as Li-ion batteries.

  • Demand-response tools, such as smart thermostats & smart appliances, to mediate peaks in demand.

IBRs, microgrids & grid defection

Additionally, the challenges of operating with high shares of inverter-based resources (IBRs) in grids with low system strength and low inertia (due to the decreasing presence of synch generators) should be highlighted.  At higher levels of VRE sources (and consequently, IBR) penetration, new advanced inverter controls, based on grid-forming (GFM) techs, will be needed to maintain system stability.

 

In this grid-shifting context, microgrids has emerged as a viable alternative to conventional utility grids in providing reliable, secure, and sustainable power supply to a group of consumer units.  Flexible, they can also inject power into the grid, or even participating in VPPs (virtual power plants).

 

Concomitantly, driven by solar, wind, and battery systems price drops, and increasing climate change driven natural disasters, a relatively large number of consumers are thinking about disconnecting from the grid and investing in their own energy systems to achieve full energy autarky.

Grid-edge tech

Electricity system is moving away from the centralized paradigm to a decentralized and bidirectional one.  The grid edge (where “edge” means the proximity to end-use customers) comprises techs, solutions, and business models enabling the transition toward a decentralized & distributed electric grid.  Grid edge techs are important tools to facilitate higher penetrations of renewable energy and to mitigate climate change.

  

Grid edge, the interface between the grid and the distributed end users, encompasses a wide range of techs & services, from electric vehicles to heat pumps, and solar panels to home batteries.  Grid edge technologies enables energy autonomy, unlocks new economic opportunities or manages renewables & DER (Distributed Energy Resources).  These technologies can also support resilience and allow power to be restored to communities more efficiently after natural disasters.

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