Flipping the switch to renewable-fed grids comes with challenges for power companies and operators. That’s because current grids were developed around fossil fuels with steady output and the ability to ramp up on demand. But renewable energy sources like wind and solar don’t work that way. This presents an opportunity for innovators, of which Reactive Technologies is one. The company specializes in technologies that help utilities transition to renewables by empowering grid operators with the measurements and data they need to keep the power flowing.
“The ongoing global transition to net-zero carbon involves massive build-out of renewable energy sources like wind and solar farms, which often replace carbon-intensive fossil fuel generators,” Frederico Rauter, chief revenue officer at Reactive Technologies, told TriplePundit. "While these no- and low-carbon renewable energy sources have many benefits in addition to curbing climate change, they also introduce new challenges."
A patchwork of old and new grid technologies
“With renewable energy set to become the top source of the world’s electricity by 2025, power grid operators globally are struggling to manage the fluctuating energy supply associated with renewables — which, if not accommodated for properly, can destabilize the grid and, in the worst-case scenario, lead to supply interruptions and blackouts," Rauter explained.
Vox reported on the inefficiency of the United States’ current grid architecture back in 2018 — noting an increase in disturbances and calling for an overhaul designed around new, renewable technology. Unsurprisingly, that hasn’t happened. Instead, the transition to renewables looks more like new technologies jimmy-rigged to an old grid. That’s where innovators like Reactive come in.
“Traditionally, system operators have relied on fossil fuel power stations to help maintain system stability in the face of a sudden imbalance or disturbance, such as a fault,” Rauter continued, detailing how such plants can match the grid’s needs in real-time and create stability in inertia. “Inverter-based resources like solar, wind, and battery storage are connected to the grid with power electronics that do not inherently provide inertia and system strength, increasing the risk of system instability and supply interruptions. As coal-fired power plants retire and are replaced by renewables, operators have had to review the way they manage and monitor the grid to avoid risks.”
The hidden supply of renewable energy causes confusion for operators
The problem with patching renewables into a grid built for the steady flow from fossil fuels is that the supply from renewables is hidden from transmission and distribution operators, who need that information to estimate inertia and system strength. Within the power sector, inertia refers to the energy stored in power generators at a given time, while system strength measures the power system's ability to maintain the correct voltage across the grid.
“Without an accurate view of inertia or system strength, operators have in some cases been blind to potential security risks, and in others, were forced to overspend on balancing services, cap renewables integration, or even curtail their output in lieu of fossil fuels,” Rauter explained.
In his view, transmission and distribution operators are central to the energy transition and hold the key to making sure it is successful on both technical and economic fronts. But they need the right tools to be able to gauge outputs from renewables.
Tech to the rescue
Last year, McKinsey estimated that the transmission sector needs to expand by 60 percent by 2030 to keep up with the growth that’s required in renewables. But a hundred years' worth of development is unlikely to occur in such a short timeframe. The hope is that new tech will help relieve some of that burden and make the most out of the grid we’ve got as improvements are made.
“Our technology directly measures inertia and system strength by sending pulses of power through the grid, which are measured and processed by Reactive’s grid edge measurement devices and cloud computing platform,” Rauter explained. “Using this system, operators can accurately map any deviations in levels of voltage and electrical frequency, allowing an almost instantaneous response to keep the grid in balance. With GridMetrix in place, operators around the world can reduce the risk of grid instability and bring more renewables online, safely and cost-effectively.”
Reactive's GridMetrix system is being used by transmission and distribution operators in the U.K., Italy, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. With it, Rauter said that operators are going to be able to more efficiently utilize renewable energy while protecting their system’s stability. “Our ability to measure transmission, distribution and demand level inertia will provide unprecedented transparency and allow operators globally to meet the challenge,” he said.
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