Bringing Balance to the Grid

London / 24 June 2020

As our world moves towards a net-zero carbon future, one question continues to inspire both intense debate and rapid innovation. We know that green solutions such as solar panels or wind turbines cannot generate an uninterrumpted supply of electricity so in a world where demand for electricity is growing alongside the need to reduce carbon emissions, how can we ensure stability of supply?

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As well as new technology, new energy market rules and new business models will be needed. The good news is that although the problem is pressing, a diverse range of solutions have been, and are being, developed and tested.
Bigger and Better
Dramatic progress has been made in the capacity of turbines. Recently, Siemens Gamesa launched the world’s largest wind turbine. The SG 14-222 DD, it has a rotor diameter of two-hundred-and-twenty-two meters, just over twice as tall as the London landmark, Big Ben. Its sheer size, alongside its Power Boost feature, will allow it to reach a capacity of 15 megawatts. Building larger, more powerful and efficient turbines enables an even greater number of communities to derive even greater benefit from our world’s natural resources.
Big data opens up new opportunities for wind turbines
Reading the Future

The old aphorism of ‘Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail’ rings as true for balancing our electricity grids as for anything else. Market resources must be allocated correctly so that we do not find ourselves with too much electricity, or worse, too little. But, with greater weather forecasting capability, wind energy technicians are able to more closely predict how much electricity their wind farms are able to provide the grid.

Using large amounts of high-level data in combination with machine learning, we can predict electricity production from wind farms more closely and, consequently, reduce overall operating costs.

For instance, knowing when wind farms will be able to produce electricity allows us to know exactly when to commission reserve generation from power producers such as energy storage systems.
The Future of Batteries
Clustering wind farms with energy storage systems has consistently been found to reduce the risks posed by intermittency across the world. And although we may think we know what battery energy storage systems look like, they come in a diverse array of forms.

Pumped-hydro energy storage is considered to be a form of battery, as it stores potential energy in water that can be used to turn a turbine as the water flows downhill. There are also experiments with potential energy-driven batteries in repurposed Scottish mine shafts, where, by dropping a great weight (weighing around 12,000 tonnes) down a deep mine, the speed of its descent turns a turbine at the surface.
Both of the above could be considered to be different kinds of batteries. Where they store different forms of kinetic energy, traditional batteries store chemical energy for conversion into electricity. They represent one of the most exciting areas of experimentation in grid-balancing and fully support the integration of renewables, particularly for off-grid communities.

For example, an IRENA analysis of global energy storage took note of a mini-grid battery project in Martinique where a solar panel farm is supported by a small battery. The farm feeds into the battery to ensure that electricity is fed into the grid at a constant rate, which negates the need for back-up generation.
Wind farm with a complementary solar photo-voltaic farm (GETEC Green Energy Wind Farm in Zebst)
The ‘hybridization’ of renewable energy projects presents huge opportunities for grid balancing too. By combining a small wind farm with a complementary solar photo-voltaic farm, sunlight can be harvested during the day while the wind turbines produce electricity at night. Siemens Gamesa projects like the GETEC Green Energy Wind Farm in Zebst, Germany, use this to great effect. Moreover, hybridization projects encourage collaboration across industries and accelerate both the decarbonization and the development of our world through the provision of clean and cost-efficient electricity. Working together is perhaps the oldest innovation there is, but it’s also the most successful.

The diverse array of projects currently being funded fuel both our homes and communities, as well as hopes that one day intermittency will be a thing of the past. The issues that plagued forms of renewable energy when they were in their infancy are closer than ever to being solved. By ensuring that a wide range of grid-balancing solutions are funded and investigated, we can ensure that we improve our climate while safeguarding our electricity supply.


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