Smart Grid Experts Talk about Bridging Old and New Energy Systems

Green Mentor's Fireside Chat

 In Taiwan, technicians in the energy industry feel demotivated at work.

 While other industries have great motivation to innovate, domestic energy industries still lack a great leap to innovation. Instead, debates and doubts in energy industries have grown and led to negative impressions, due to the incidents happening in 2017. The large-scaled blackout caused by the power-off at the TaTan Power Plant and a nation-wide blackout caused by the collapse of the Hoping Power Plant's power towers were to blame for the inconvenience as results. In addition, the policy for cutting down the electricity usage in governmental institutions resulted in the heat strokes of many civil servants. They were ordered to turn off the air conditioners at noon during the midsummer. Not to mention that there was severe pollution of PM2.5—the so-called “purple explosion”—taking place for more than 100 days throughout the year. The numbers of infected people who got sick, had allergies, and spent money for medical cares were inestimable. This is at the costs of their own health and working conditions.

 These incidents brought the public attention to the technicians like us, but with the impression of incapability. We seem to utilize outdated tools and technologies, and ignore the issues of electricity supply, which would greatly affect the quality of electricity usage, and even public health and security.

 Hence, as I suggested our “green mentors” to write a series of articles about the issues of electrical grid, some found me foolish, saying that “people in this era do not appreciate our professions, and it would be difficult for arouse the public attention. Besides, if we share everything we know, how can we make money out of this crisis?”

 I am thinking the opposite. In my opinion, people involved in the energy industry should not pursue merely the best solution to our problems, but the innovative and systematic solutions that would lead us further. We need enough density of holistic views, talents as the formula to bring forth the innovations.

 In this industry, what matters most is not those who work or devote with more efforts, but the holistic views by the capable. Therefore, I, along with several green mentors, initiate “Energy Vernacular Movement” and will serve as translators in residence at Green Impact Academy. By this means, we will start from shaping holistic thinking of the grid design, understanding a system by sensing its large-scale landscape from the aspects of market economy, advanced methods and technology. We will be helping one construct a holistic framework of energy knowledge. We aim to provide support to people who seek for opportunities in green industries, as job seekers or entrepreneurs. 

 One might ask, what would benefit me to understand energy if I do not participate or start a business in green industries? The fact is, there are far more benefits beyond your imagination. Picture this: the power outage gets more frequent, and PM2.5 alerts happen all the time. It becomes hot conversation topics just like the weather. If you read our columns and start to construct a holistic view to energy, you will not stay ignorant of the related topics, and would hopefully begin to bring on some latest advances and knowledge in science and technology. This will make you an impressive person and enrich your content in communication, so others might admire you and find your conversation as interesting as the craze of people talking about the artificial intelligence is.

 Let us begin by framing the key knowledge in understanding energy issues. Everyone assumes that green energies are good for many reasons: inexhaustible and sustainable resources, zero carbon emission and no PM2.5. And, what good is it to burn a great amount of coals in order to produce electricity? In addition, Germany announced that the nation reached 100% green energy supply on the New Year's Day of 2018. Are those in authority nuts as they keep mentioning the use of coals? 

 Of course not. Let us assume that you are now the Minister of the Department of Economy. You have to manage the electricity supply for nearly 2 million medium or small sized corporations under your domain. They need electricity to maintain the production lines of all kinds of goods, they make profits out of their commodities, and then pay taxes to the central bureaus. Just about then, the Director of the Bureau of Energy comes to you with a “duck.”

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(Figure 1) The One-Day Electricity Use in California, USA, 2016 (Source: Institute for Information Industry)

 In Figure 1, we can see the electricity consumption curve of a certain day in California, USA in Fall, 2016. The horizontal axis stands for time, 24 hours a day, while the vertical axis stands for the load of the electricity grid, with the unit of 1MkW. 

 The gray line is the amount of electricity generated by solar power. Solar power is an intermittent energy. It can only generate electricity during daytime and stay static for the rest of the day. Somehow this does not meet the needs and habits of human activities.  People go to work in the daytime, and get back home at night, demanding more electricity use. They turn on electrical devices, such as the air conditioner, the TV, the Internet, and the washing machine. These are essential to their daily use regardless of the break that solar power poses at night. Hence, the blue line is exactly the amount of power people need.

 Then here comes the orange line, which stands for the total load after deducting the solar power. In other words, it is the amount of electricity generated by other powers, such as fossil fuels and nuclear power. With sufficient sunshine at noon, the load is less and the orange line falls, looks similar to the shape of a duck's belly. At sunset, the curve of the load rises just like a duck's neck. This is the famous Duck Curve. That's also the reason why green energies not getting along well with other sources of energies. 

 With more percentage in intermittent energies, such as solar, the curve presenting the duck belly grow bigger. The bigger the belly, the higher risks of the power managing problems a country would take. Other base load power, e.g. fossil fuels, nuclear power, etc., will be added in a large amount as the influx of renewable energy into the electrical grid. This procedure takes extra attention, because if something goes wrong, the blackout occurs. 

 Hence, as the Minister of the Department of Economy, you ought to have something in mind by far, but you cannot show any your concerns or worries to the Director of the Bureau of Energy, who stands in front of you. So, you claim that “Germany reached the goal of 100% green energy supply on the New Year's Day this year, and so would we. Taiwan always achieves what others are capable of.”

 The Director sighs and tells you, “The traditional generators are not like laptops we have today. And you cannot start or shut down the machines with one button anytime. The generators are designed and made decades ago, so one needs to preheat the machines or keep them stand by, so that they can function normally. But these actions may cost more fuels, and are not helpful on the base load. To clarify, though Germany uses green energy, it does not mean that fossil fuels are abandoned. Since the plants, according to their features, still need to sustain the base load of the power supply and maintaining the safety of the electrical grid, the carbon emissions are still there. And worse yet, Germans even have to pay others to consume the generated powers.”

  “The real trouble is,” the Director continues, “our supervisor, the Premier of the Executive Yuan, requests that we should make the greatest effort to develop the industry of electric vehicles.” What people do not know is that the charging time of the electric vehicles is difficult to predict, and we could only assume that people will recharge the batteries for their electric vehicles after returning home at night. Let us take Tesla for example. The charging power of one charging pile is about 15kW (220V, 23-72A), and it is designed for a set of Tesla cars. Thus, if there are 600 charging piles in operation, they would consume as much as the same amount of the electricity consumption of the Taipei 101 building during the peak in summer. As a result, as the number of electric vehicles grows in the future, the curve indicating the duck’s neck will grow and become like a goose's neck. If that happens, the power management will become more difficult and costly.

 Now you realize that how tricky your position as a Minister of the Department of Economy is. You are in the dilemma of satisfying the needs of economy, electricity consumption, and a “duck” indicating the inevitable problems—a lot of uncontrolled grid feed in issues in the renewable energy and a set of electrical grid that can be dated as fossils in the industry.

 The duck curve seemingly makes green energy a foolish choice. However, issues are also opportunities. Raising the proportion of renewable energy in the electrical grid not merely increases problems and risks, but also directs to new business possibilities.

 As a green entrepreneur, you should ask, “how do we transform the outdated grid into a smart one, in order to solve problems on the derived duck curve and fulfill sustainable goals?”

 The ultimate solution will include the following key factors: to control the output of the renewable energy, to pair the real-time electricity metering, to use the technology of the IoT, data analytics, energy storage technologies and smart inverters, etc. With all these, we can instantly gather and even forecast the generation amount, controlling the mechanisms of the renewable energy. There are already some green startups starting to test the market, and the domestic regulations for smart inverters are going to enforced soon.

 Second, we should aim at lowering the burden of the base load power, and make the ends meet after the dawn. First, we can combine technologies of automated demand response, of the air conditioning demand reduction, and of the energy storage. With time-based pricing and demand response programs in place in the future, we would even make money at the duck neck period.

 If there are so many ways to make money, why have we never heard that someone is making money on the dispatch of the electrical grid?

 Because without the smart meter, none of the above will happen. The smart meter is the fundamental infrastructure for the smart grid.

 Without a smart meter, one can never know how much power is being generated by renewable energy during the duck belly periods, nor should the amount of base load power or renewable energy be released.

 Without a smart meter, we cannot estimate how much renewable energy we lost in the duck neck period, and will not see how much the load will be used and how much should we fill the base load.

 Moreover, without a smart meter, we will not be able to defeat the duck and get any green startups survive their goals in improving the industry, even though all of us have spent our lives developing energy technologies. 

 Not long ago, over twenty thousand high-voltage smart meters for domestic usage have been installed. Unfortunately, we cannot get the data from meters instantly, and there is no platform for transmission, exchange, certification and application for the industry. As a result, the effectiveness of high-voltage smart meters has been greatly reduced. Currently, the installation of low-voltage meters for commercial and residential users are taking place. We could expect that as Route B of the smart meter would help us get rid of the deficiencies of high-voltage smart meters. We will talk more on the all the technologies mentioned above then.

Duck Curve Smart Grid

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