Redesigning national power grids is central to the strategy of moving toward cleaner, greener energy supplies. Perhaps most crucial are the attempts of “decentralisation”, which involve energy being generated closer to where the demand is, as opposed to coming from larger power stations. Building this greater flexibility into networks is creating investment opportunities and a new role for utilities, energy aggregators, storage suppliers, as well as engineers. “International energy grids are not adequately prepared for the shift to renewable energy,” says Larry Zulch, chief executive of battery manufacturer Invinity. “A fundamental rethink is required, putting generation near consumption and storage near generation, with long-distance transmission focused more on addressing imbalances than facilitating balances of centrally generated electricity,” he says. Some of the most exciting experiments with flexible grids are currently happening in the Asia-Pacific region. On Kyushu, a subtropical island floating on a volcanic faultline, one of Japan’s largest projects to build grid flexibility is taking place. A deal signed between Tokyo Electric Power and Centrica Business Solutions last year will allow utilities to build their own “virtual power plants” to deliver cleaner energy. Virtual power plants are networks of decentralised power generating units such as wind farms, solar parks and combined heat and power (CHP) units that are linked through cloud computing. Their aim is to use modern technology to match fluctuating local supply with actual demand of power to households and businesses. They can also exploit demand management techniques, whereby customers are contracted to trim consumption at peak times for a financial incentive. There are four main ways to increase system flexibility, according to Chatham House, the UK research institute: storage, flexible generation, demand-side response and longer-distance transmission. “Companies that can provide this cheaply and effectively will rise to prominence,” says Antony Froggatt, senior research fellow at Chatham House. E3G, an energy policy think-tank, cites “sector coupling” as one of the most interesting grid trends, where electricity-consuming sectors such as transport, industry and buildings, merge their energy use and supply infrastructure. One application is the conversion of electricity from renewable sources into gas and liquid fuels or heat which can then be used locally to help decarbonise energy-intensive industries. Morten Petersen, a Danish MEP, has said coupling is “absolutely key” for Europe’s climate ambitions.
FT 15th July 2020 read more »