EirGrid is lead partner in €20m European research project
Plan is to address the challenges around the deployment of renewable energy on power networks
“Meeting our 2030 targets will require transformational change across Europe – we will see almost a doubling of renewables such as wind and solar”
Ireland’s electricity grid operator EirGrid is the lead partner in a €20 million European research project which is addressing the challenges related to the deployment of renewable energy on power networks.
EU-SysFlex is a consortium of 34 energy companies from 15 countries across Europe, and has a budget of €26 million. It has received funding of €20 million under Horizon 2020, the EU’s €80 billion research and innovation programme. EirGrid is the overall project co-ordinator, while French electricity group EDF acts as technical co-ordinator.
“The project is fundamentally about addressing the needs of the pan-European power system as we transition to a low-carbon, renewable energy-driven Europe,” says project director John Lowry of EirGrid. “The consortium involves transmission service operators, distribution service operators, research bodies, academia and technology providers – we have expertise across the full spectrum.”
The impetus behind the project is the need to decarbonise electricity production.
“Today in Europe, renewables meet approximately 30 per cent of our electricity needs,” says Lowry. “The ambition is to increase this to 50 per cent by 2030 and to be fully decarbonised by 2050. Meeting our 2030 targets will require transformational change across Europe – we will see almost a doubling of renewables such as wind and solar.”
Yet it’s not just a question of building more wind and solar farms. It’s a lot more complex than that, as Lowry explains.
“Power from renewable sources has different technical characteristics to electricity from traditional generating stations, and that presents challenges for the stability of the system.
“But the change is not just the increase in renewables. There is a lot of complexity coming in as well. Traditional power grids were very centralised with a small number of large generating stations. It is now becoming much more decentralised with lots of new sources right down to rooftop solar.
“Also how we use electricity is changing in transport and heat. We are seeing technological advancements creating greater consumer participation and choice in how our energy needs are managed.”
These changes present challenges for power system operators, with inertia at the top of the list. Inertia is a tendency to remain in a current state. With a small number of large generating stations on the grid you get a lot of inertia which helps maintain the stability of the system. The more renewables and other intermittent sources the less inertia and therefore greater instability.
Another challenge is congestion. With rising demand and a rapid increase in generating sources, the potential for systems to become congested is much greater.
The first element of the project involves research into the nature of the challenges or scarcities facing grid operators across Europe.
“We are examining the scale of the inertia problem and identifying the products needed to fill the gap. We are also looking at the technologies required to maximise the potential of the existing grid to handle the additional demand and new power sources and minimise the amount of new infrastructure that has to be built.”
That first stage of the project is now nearing completion.
“We are now coming to the conclusion of 18 months of analysis of system scarcities,” says Lowry. “Three regions were examined – the island of Ireland; the Nordics;, and continental Europe. Having identified the scarcities and the type of technologies which will be required to address them we will go on to look at the regulatory and market enhancements which will be required to attract technology providers to deliver those solutions.”
The enhancements he speaks of will be measures to make it worthwhile for technology companies and research organisations to take the financial and other risks involved in the development of the novel solutions required.
Work has already commenced on the development of some of those solutions, and a number of demonstrator trials are being run on technologies such as domestic solar PV and the telecommunications protocols for data exchange.
“A huge amount of data has to be exchanged if we are to manage all the new sources and utilise them properly,” says Lowry.“We are developing a roadmap for the work that has to be done over the next 10 years both in Ireland and across Europe
“EirGrid already ran the DS3 programme that got us up to 55 per cent renewables on the grid. EU-SysFlex will give us the platform for the next 10 years, and will inform all work that we need to do.
“Our national target is 70 per cent renewables by 2030. You have to be able to operate a system with 95 per cent renewables or more at any one time to do that. What we are talking about is a system that is pretty much completely run on renewables.
“We have got to incentivise the market to provide the technologies to fill the gaps. We have to enhance the system services market. We have a fairly advanced system services market in Ireland, but we have to look at what needs to be done across Europe as well.”