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Smart grid to aid renewable energy

To meet EU demands for electricity distribution systems that can incorporate more renewable energy, 16 European partners from 10 countries are working on a €160 million smart grid project, EcoGrid EU.

By Kari Williamson

With the aid of a smart power grid and a range of financial 'carrots', 2000 electricity customers on the Danish island of Bornholm are being tempted to reduce their power consumption when the wind is either too weak or too strong for the wind turbines on the island to work.

The aim is to increase the amount of intermittent resources such as solar and wind power in electricity grids.

The smart grid project is being coordinated by SINTEF Energy Research, a Norwegian contract research institute, and according to Senior Researcher Ove Grande at SINTEF Energy, the results of the project will be directly transferable, not only to wind-power nations and nations that are investing heavily in solar electric power, but to all countries that are planning 'smart' electricity grids.

“When a country develops a high capacity to produce solar and wind power, the usual assumption is that system operators will need backup sources that can quickly be switched on when the wind does not obey the weather forecast or when clouds unexpectedly shade solar cells. And back-up sources of supply to meet acute power-matching needs are expensive,” Grande says.

The usual assumption has been that such problems must be solved, for example, via the use of gas turbines or power imports from other regions or countries.

“However, in the system to be demonstrated on Bornholm it is the consumers who will solve the problem, by cutting back some of their electricity consumption for short periods. This is far cheaper than giving them reserve power, and is also more environmentally friendly. And because it is cheaper, it will raise the limits of how much solar and wind power an electricity grid can actually rely on,” says Grande.

The Bornholm project

Wind power provides as much as 50% of Bornholm’s electricity, and customers in the project are invited to leave off using their heat pumps, washing machines and certain other electric appliances for short periods when the island’s wind turbines are out of operation due to weather conditions.

The carrot is that customers will reduce their electric bill with the aid of an intelligent power system. An automated system will disconnect an agreed proportion of each customer’s consumption when electricity prices are high. The same system allows customers to raise their consumption (e.g. to charge an electric car) when prices are low.

Handling data

The project will develop a computer system that automatically calculates the price of electricity for customers on the basis of the situation in the generation and distribution system. This price should always reflect what it would cost to generate reserve power in the same periods.

The system will continuously communicate these prices to a little smart box that will be installed in the 2000 customers’ homes along with smart meters. When necessary, the box will switch electrical appliances on or off, depending on the customer's prior assessment of what is an acceptable electricity price for different types of consumption.

Meanwhile, SINTEF will determine how much power can be freed up in this way, depending on how high the price per kilowatt hour will need to be for customers to cut out part of their electricity consumption.

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