Microgrid all-stars: energy storage and controls

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Alexander Darovskikh of Rolls-Royce Solutions America explores why energy storage and controls are the all-stars of the microgrid game.

energy storage

Alexander Darovskikh, senior sales manager, microgrids North America for Rolls-Royce Solutions America

Energy storage is the hot topic of the energy industry. Despite our many technological advancements, the storage of and distribution of electricity is something that we have only recently started to do. With increasing energy demands and a globalized effort to introduce renewable power generation to the grid, this concept is more important than ever before. With that in mind, there are many technologies to choose from. Each medium may have advantages (such as scaling, response time and duration) but the core ability to effectively offset production against consumption is where value is found. In addition to the financial benefits, the optimization of this energy means that customers can operate with higher efficiencies, achieve more resiliency and use cleaner generation. When coupled with automated controls, the outcome is a smart solution that can make the best decisions based on our needs and available resources.

An all-star analogy

When describing microgrids, I like to use the analogy of a professional sports team. Distributed energy resources are the players, storage is the captain and controls are the coach. When storage is integrated, it is like adding an all-star player like Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth to your lineup. Individual strengths of other players (components) are supported by the captain (storage) to form a properly balanced solution. Instead of each “player” acting alone, assets work in unison to score a point or, in our case, align favorable generation with the loads. Nondispatchable components (such as solar and wind) can flexibly produce without curtailment and dispatchable assets (diesel and gas gensets) can operate at peak efficiency. Alternatively, underperforming components can be bolstered by batteries because of their rapid response; for example, if the sun fails to shine and/or the wind does not blow. Altogether, the result is a cohesive team that provides effective production, fuel savings, improved power quality (despite renewable output fluctuations) and many other stackable revenue streams.

Controls and the imminence of artificial intelligence

As mentioned in the analogy above, controls are our coach. Every great team has one; a seasoned individual who understands the strategy, strengths and plays of the game. Great coaches know which players to use, when to apply them and how to leverage favorable conditions. Similarly, a sophisticated control system takes advantage of new trends taking place in the form of neural networks, artificial intelligence and automation. These processes have been gaining momentum across all industries and can positively impact power generation through the analysis of historical and real-time data. Fortunately for us, our modern world gives us monitoring and control capabilities over almost anything. By using this input, our decision-making process for energy usage and the economies tied to it will only improve. With smart controls, our choices can be made with confidence, either directly by us or through the intelligent automation we design. Either way, this knowledge is power and will bring us one step closer to a sustainable future.

Future significance

Although most of us expect illumination when we flip on the light switch, most of us fail to appreciate the vast amount of effort it takes to get us to this simple result. Fuel discovery, refinement, delivery and generation are just a few elements to consider off a very long list. Although electricity can be perceived as relatively inexpensive to an average consumer, there are immense opportunities to save when applied to the big picture. With the ever-growing energy requirements — such as the large-scale adoption of electric vehicles — that are expected in the coming years, a strong team is essential to win the energy game. With smart microgrids and energy storage, we can meet these demands without straining our existing energy grid. Both storage and controls have come a long way, and I am really looking forward to how far we can take them.

Alexander Darovskikh is senior sales manager, microgrids North America for Rolls-Royce Solutions America.

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Comments

  1. There are several solutions to a problem and some of the “low hanging” fruit is to take existing transmission line power towers and replace the wire on the tower to a soft aluminum conducting core wrapped in carbon fiber to allow strength of the wire, less sag due to wind load and heat load, while the soft-core conductor allows 2.5 times the power carrying capacity of the old aluminum wiring. It has also been found, that in many cases transmission lines may be at right around 100% capacity during the day, at night they may not be at 50% capacity or a little less. Very large energy storage facilities distributed along the transmission grid would allow better use of the transmission path in place but allow one to ‘shuttle’ all generation resources online from one region to another to set up a day ahead grid system while using transmission assets in a more efficient manner.