Grid Stabilization

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The need for inertia in electricity systems?

The demand for energy is increasing worldwide, and with that comes the need to contain the effects of climate change and reduce CO2 emissions. This means many countries are looking at how to phase out CO2 intensive forms of power generation, such as diesel generators, and expanding renewable energies.

Renewable power is connected to the grid electronically rather than directly as a large centralised power station would be. As a result of the shift away from diesel generators there is fewer large spinning turbine on the grid, and this has led to a reduction in the amount of inertia in the system.

Why is a lack of inertia is a problem?

Inertia is the resistance of a physical object to any change in velocity – essentially the kinetic energy that keeps something moving. Think about how you keep moving forward when you stop pedalling your bike.

In energy terms, inertia is energy stored in a generator or motor which keeps it rotating. It helps slow the rate at which the grid frequency changes, as rapid changes can create instability in the system. In Jamaica, the grid needs to be kept at around 50Hz, as blackouts will occur if it dips below that and consumers are disconnected.

Traditionally, inertia has been provided as a by-product of large-scale power plant operation. However, as more of these close, and the system becomes more decentralised using wind and solar, a new approach is needed to add more inertia into the system.

‘Digital inertia’: Energy storage can stabilise grid with 1/10 the capacity of thermal generation

On islanded (or isolated) grids with growing renewable penetrations, grid operators often struggle to maintain system stability. Operators in places as diverse as Ireland, Puerto Rico and Australia frequently rely on inertial response from thermal power plants like coal or gas-fired generators to balance sudden mismatches between supply and demand. However, recent research finds that battery-based energy storage can provide inertial response for system reliability much more efficiently, at a lower cost and with substantially reduced emissions than a much larger quantity of thermal generation.

Inertia: A blink-of-the-eye grid balancing service

Inertia is a system-wide service that responds to fluctuations in electricity frequency in the first fraction of a second of an imbalance between supply and demand – for example, when a power station suddenly drops offline. Traditionally, this stabilising hand has come from the kinetic energy provided by the spinning mass of (synchronous) generators that produce electricity from fossil fuels.

All this occurs well within the first half a second of an issue – literally, the time it takes a human eye to blink. Traditionally the electric power sector has not thought of it as service. It’s just part of the physics of synchronous generators; and we don’t miss something until it’s gone.

As the proportion of energy from (non-synchronous) wind and solar grows this source of traditional ‘analogue’ inertia is in increasingly short supply. The typical solution to this has been to hold back wind and solar output during such times, but this is growing increasingly costly as renewable penetration grows. Let’s face facts: paying not to use zero-fuel cost and zero carbon renewables isn’t a tenable solution in the long run; and would require a significant overbuild of renewable capacity to achieve the same decarbonisation targets.

Energy needed during curtailment is often provided by fossil fuel-powered thermal generators, running when they don’t need to be or running at a higher set point than they need to be, wasting fuel and adding cost.

Opportunity for digital inertia as renewables scale up

Unsurprisingly, islanded grids facing growing penetrations of renewables will be the first to address these questions at scale. While it may take time, larger interconnected grids approaching significant renewable penetration will learn from the experiences of smaller grids such as Ireland.

We, believe it’s time to go ‘beyond the spin’ and unlock the cost-saving, efficiency-boosting and carbon-cutting power of batteries.  By removing the technology bias to ‘Analogue Inertia’, and letting batteries provide an equivalent ‘Digital Inertia’ service directly at source, ‘renewable generation’ we believe this has the potential to significantly reduce the cost and renewable system integration. 

The use of grid battery systems in this way puts a strain on the life-cycle and ability to perform long term.  To meet the demands of the grid a battery system would need to cycle power multiple times a day, this is not something that can be done with traditional Li-Ion, Li-NMC or LifePO4 cells.  The reduced cycle count <6000 shortens the batteries usable lifecycle and requires costly replacement within a few years. 

AQVASTOR has launched a new cell technology in its battery systems, Lithium Titanate LTO.  These cells are designed for fast charge and discharge at up to 6C, while maintaining low degradation and extended cycle counts >20,000.  The LTO cells are an ideal partner for combined grid stabilization and energy load shifting.

Key Benefits

If power generation and load demand are unbalanced, it would cause serious problems on frequency stability. Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) are very effective means of supporting system frequency by providing fast response to power imbalances in the grid.
To maintain reliable power system operations, generation must exactly match electricity demand at all times. There are various categories of operating reserves and ancillary services that function on different timescales, from sub-seconds to several hours, all of which are needed to ensure grid reliability. BESS can rapidly charge or discharge in a fraction of a second, faster than conventional thermal plants, making them a suitable resource for short-term reliability services, such as Primary Frequency Response (PFR) and Regulation. Appropriately sized BESS can also provide longer-duration services, such as load-following and ramping services, to ensure supply meets demand.
When starting up, large generators need an external source of electricity to perform key functions before they can begin generating electricity for the grid. During normal system conditions, this external electricity can be provided by the grid. After a system failure, however, the grid can no longer provide this power, and generators must be started through an on-site source of electricity, such as a diesel generator, a process known as black start. An on-site BESS can also provide this service, avoiding fuel costs and emissions from conventional black-start generators. As system-wide outages are rare, an on-site BESS can provide additional services when not performing black starts.
System operators and project developers have an interest in using as much low-cost, emissions-free renewable energy generation as possible; however, in systems with a growing share of VRE, limited flexibility of conventional generators and temporal mismatches between renewable energy supply and electricity demand (e.g., excess wind generation in the middle of the night) may require renewable generators to curtail their output. By charging the battery with low-cost energy during periods of excess renewable generation and discharging during periods of high demand, BESS can both reduce renewable energy curtailment and maximize the value of the energy developers can sell
to the market. Another extension of arbitrage in power systems without electricity markets is load leveling. With load-levelling, system operators charge batteries during periods of excess generation and discharge batteries during periods of excess demand to more efficiently coordinate the dispatch of generating resources.

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