Are power grids prepared for the renewable energy revolution? Sadly, they are not. This poses a serious threat to our electricity security and the success of the energy transition. In this article we explain why this is the case and why Systèmes de stockage d'énergie par batterie (BESS) are a partial but crucial solution to the issue.
Table of Contents
- The Energy Future is Renewable
- How Power Grids Work
- Why Power Grids are Unprepared
- What does it mean for us?
- A Solution: Battery Energy Storage Systems
The Energy Future is Renewable
First of all, we need to determine what the electricity sector will look like in the upcoming decades.
As we strive to decarbonize the power segment by 2050, the focus on electrification grows stronger. As a matter of fact, in 2021, the share of electricity in total global energy consumption was 20%. By 2050, it will rise to 30% to 50%.
Notably, in the next three decades the growth of renewable energy sources (RES) is on course to rise exponentially as they are set to become the largest source of electricity in the world. Only in 2022, they met 92% of global electricity demand growth. Between 2022 and 2027, they will contribute to around 90% of global electricity expansion.
By 2050, RES will make up 75-80% of capacity installations. In the most conservative scenario, their share in global electricity generation will rise to 65%. But it could potentially jump to 80-88%. Notably, wind and solar are set to be the world’s power house, providing between 60% and 70% of total generation. This is a significant increase from their mere 12% share in 2022.
Source: World Energy Outlook 2022 (IEA, 2022); Source: bp Energy Outlook 2022 (bp, 2022)
While this scenario seems promising, our transmission and distribution grids are not ready for it. But why?
To answer this question, we must first have on overview on how power grids work.
How Power Grids Work
Electricity supply and demand must always match. As a consequence, transmission and distribution grids are sized to maintain a constant balance.
Grid distributors and operators use advanced technology to predict fluctuations in electricity demand and adapt their supply accordingly. This enables them to anticipate the precise amount of electricity needed for specific time periods.
To strike the balance, they can purchase additional power from neighbouring grids. Or they can simply enable power plants to burn more fossil fuels, which increases carbon emissions.
In cases where unexpected surges in demand occur and utilities don’t have sufficient supply available from any source, they might implement blackouts as a means to restore balance.
So far, all clear. Now, we can move on to the reason our power grids cannot cope with a large-scale deployment of renewables.
Why Power Grids are Unprepared
Until nowadays, we have strongly relied on power plants that burn coal or natural gas to produce electricity. Because these facilities can module how much fossil fuel they can burn, they are able to provide consistent and controllable power output.
Most transmission and distribution grids are designed to accommodate this type of centralized, continuous and controllable power generation. It makes it relatively easy to balance supply with demand and maintain the grid stable.
But as opposed to fossil fuels, renewables are a variable and intermittent source of energy. This because the intensity of their electricity generation depends on external factors, including time of the day, weather conditions and seasons. As a result, their power output is inconsistent. Nor it can be easily controlled.
Today’s transmission and distribution infrastructure is just not enough flexible to adapt to these quick and sudden fluctuations in power supply.
This causes a series of issues that undermine our electricity security and prevent us from really going green. We shall now see an overview of what these complications are.
What does it mean for us?
More Challenges in Balancing the Grid
Firstly, there is greater uncertainty around how much power supply is available at any given time. Because of this, grid operators find it more challenging to respond to variations in electricity demand.
Consequently, during periods of peak consumption, there may not be enough power to meet the demand. And operators may struggle to forecast the additional capacity needed from alternative sources.
Grid Congestion, Instability and Power Outages
Opposed to the scenario explained above, favourable weather conditions can cause a sudden surge in renewable energy production. The electricity generated might exceed local demand or the capacity of the transmission and distribution systems. This can lead to congestions and severe bottlenecks in the power grid. It might even push grid operators to curtail the generation of clean power to restore balance.
In addition, the imbalance in supply and demand makes it difficult for the grid to maintain stable voltage and frequency levels, resulting in power disruptions and power quality issues. Moreover, it can increase the frequency of power outages.
Reliance on Polluting Backup
If we do not increase the degree of flexibility of the power grids when deploying large quantities of renewables, we are increasing the reliance on backup sources to compensate for the variability of renewable energy. The problem is that these backup sources often include coal or natural gas power plants.
For instance, when solar rooftops, solar parks or wind farms cannot generate enough power due to weather conditions, coal or gas power plants step in to fill the electricity gap.
This leads to significant emissions that offset the benefits of renewables.
Greater System Costs and Limited Renewables Growth
Relying on coal and gas power plants to adapt to the fluctuations of renewable energy is expensive and inefficient.
In addition, in order to integrate renewables, grid operators and distributors have to upgrade and expand transmission and distribution networks. This process is costly, time-consuming and can lead to temporary power disruptions for communities.
As a result, these challenges slow down the deployment of renewable energy and hinder the transition to a cleaner energy mix.
A Solution: Battery Energy Storage Systems
There is no doubt that in order to meet climate targets, we must implement renewables on a large scale. But how can we do this while minimizing the challenges listed above? In other words, how can we prepare the power grids for the renewable revolution?
The upgrade and expansion of transmission and distribution networks is important and should be pursued. But the only way to effectively make renewables an integrated part of our life is to implement programs and tools that increase the flexibility of the power grids.
As a matter of fact, these advanced technologies make networks more capable of quickly and efficiently adapting to sudden changes in power supply. At the same time, they defer or even circumvent costly, time-consuming and invasive upgrades of the transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Accordingly, Systèmes de stockage d'énergie par batterie (BESS) are the fastest growing source of power system flexibility in the world. By being implemented both at the customer and utility side of the meter, BESS can make transmission and distribution grids more stable, efficient and responsive to renewable energy generation.
How can BESS do that?
1. Grid Balancing: Smoothing Out the Variability of Renewables
BESS offer flexibility in absorbing excess electricity generated by renewables during periods of high production and in releasing stored energy when renewable generation decreases.
In the former case, BESS prevent grid congestions and bottlenecks caused by a sudden surge in renewable power generation. Also, they avoid any curtailment of renewable sources on the operators’ side. In the latter, they help meet demand for clean energy when renewables cannot deliver.
By smoothing out variability, BESS optimize the utilization of renewable resources, help supply match with demand and balance the grid.
2. Load Shifiting: Reducing Peak Demand and Strain on the Grid
Through a process known as load shifting, BESS store electricity during times of low demand and discharge it in periods of peak consumption. By shifting the load through battery storage, BESS provide crucial power in times of need.
Through this mechanism, they help flatten the demand curve and reduce the strain on the grid during peak hours. At the same time, they make sure there is always enough clean power supply to meet consumption.
3. Peak Shaving: Reducing the Need for Polluting Backup
Now, it is clear that BESS supplement power supply in periods of high consumption. This reduces the need for expensive and polluting power plants to generate additional electricity.
As a result, utilities rely less and less on coal and gas power plants to compensate for the variability of renewables. Because BESS do it already. As a result, BESS allow for a faster and larger deployment of renewable energy, easing the energy transition.
4. Providing Ancillary Services and Stabilizing the Grid
BESS are capable of discharging in a fraction of a second. They are significantly faster, more flexible and responsive than traditional thermal plants. This makes them very suitable for providing short-term reliability services, like voltage support and frequency regulation practices. For instance, they can perform primary, secondary and tertiary frequency control, primary frequency response, spinning, non-spinning and supplemental reserves, load shedding, load following, load ramping and many others.
These services enable the grid to maintain stable frequency levels and acceptable voltage limits. As a result, BESS:
- enhance the grid resilience to fluctuations in renewable energy generation
- improve power quality
- decrease disruptions
- reduce the likelihood of power outages
4. Integrating with Demand Response
BESS can be easily integrated with demand response programs. These regional or national initiatives are meant to incentivize consumers to adjust their electricity usage in specific periods of need.
For example, regional and national authorities can encourage households, businesses and industrial facilities to use their battery systems in times of peak demand to alleviate pressure on the grid.
5. Quick and Modular Deployment
BESS remain the most valuable solution for power system flexibility for several reasons.
Firstly, they are compatible with both conventional power plants and renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, wind, and hydroelectric power.
Secondly, they can be easily and quickly deployed. Their installation does not require any major upgrade to transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Thirdly, they are smoothly and rapidly scalable. This means that consumers and utilities have the freedom to gradually ramp up power capacity as their energy demand grows. Or on the contrary, they can scale it back if their energy needs decline.
Finally, BESS can be relocated to new areas once they are not needed anymore in the original location. This increases their overall value to the grid.
BESS Lower Costs
Through their installation on both utility and customer side of the meter, BESS can avoid significant costs to both utilities and consumers. We report some examples below.
First, using coal and gas power plants to meet demand in periods of peak consumption is highly inefficient for utilities. By reducing the need for this practice, BESS eliminate the related costs.
Second, by providing the grid with balancing services, BESS defer or prevent some of the costly upgrades to transmission and distribution systems.
Also, keep in mind that electricity prices in peak-off periods are lower, while they increase in times of peak demand. By charging in the former and discharging in the latter, BESS drastically decrease the electricity bills for households, businesses and communities.
And it doesn’t end there. If paired with renewables like solar PV and wind, BESS maximize energy savings by optimizing the degree of self-consumption.
Find the Battery Energy Storage System for your needs
To conclude, we know that todays’ power grids are not ready for the mass deployment of renewables needed for the energy transition.
To solve this issue, regulators must combine transmission and distribution upgrades with battery storage deployment. This would ensure grid stability and reliability in a world where we are increasingly dependent on variable, renewable energy sources.
As a matter of fact, BESS will be a key asset for our electricity security in the energy transition.