Strategies for success: Integrating renewables in utility control centers

U.S. DOE and Alstom Grid release groundbreaking global study

Kate Rowland | Dec 29, 2011


It's a foregone conclusion in the industry these days: Everything comes down to the availability of the right tools and the right data, preferably in real-time.

And we're getting closer and closer every day to enabling exactly that.

Back in October, Dr. Lawrence Jones, vice president of regulatory affairs, policy and industrial relations for Alstom Grid, hosted a series of webcasts presenting preliminary findings from a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) study in which he served as the project's principal researcher. Just before Christmas, the U.S. Department of Energy released the full report, "Strategies and Decision Support Systems for Integrating Variable Energy Resources in Control Centers for Reliable Grid Operations: Best Practices, Examples of Excellence and Lessons Learned." It can be downloaded in full here.

The 222-page report, the product of an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act cost-shared funding and research partnership of the U.S. DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Alstom Grid Inc. and Areva Federal Services, assembled input from 33 grid operators in 18 countries who together account for more than 72 percent of all wind generation capacity installed worldwide. Operators were surveyed on wind integration, their operating policies, best practices, examples of excellence, lessons learned and decision support tools now in place. (Site visits were also made, where possible.)

The power systems represented in the report have different network topologies, mix generation and load profiles, and a range of wind generation penetration levels. They are located in various geographies with diverse weather regimes around the world, and many of the utilities surveyed operate under dissimilar regulatory frameworks, and in regulated or deregulated electricity markets.

Within the research, special emphasis was placed on how these utilities incorporate wind forecast information into operating policies, strategies, processes and decision support tools which dispatchers use in the daily operations of electric power grids.

Of keen interest to me, and to electric utility operations personnel, is the clear identification and description within the report of nine current best-practice tools and decision support systems that grid operators in the U.S. and in Europe are using to integrate and manage wind energy (and, in some cases, solar energy, as well). More and more, we are seeing electric utilities large and small, IOUs, munis and cooperative utilities alike, open to the information, best practices, lessons learned, and success stories shared by their peers. Likewise, we're seeing this information being used within business plans and proposals as peer utilities use it to develop and deploy solutions specific to their own needs.

Both current and emerging best practices are discussed, and best practices are further separated into six different categories: tools, data, situational awareness, training, wind power forecasting and processes/procedures.

In reading through the hefty report, one of the findings I felt was key was the importance of tools that help operators maintain situational awareness in their control rooms as more wind generation is connected to the grid. "Focus is increasing on a new operating paradigm that is more predictive and proactive and less reactive. This is emerging in the control center as a result of greater variability and uncertainty in the power system," the report noted.

"Operational risk management will clearly require applications that allow operators to look ahead and assess the next system conditions before they occur. This ability to project into the future will certainly improve (situational awareness). Based on respondents' feedback, more wind power on the system is also expected to hasten the development of a third generation of control center applications, which are needed to support predictive and look-ahead operations."

First- and second-generation applications are already in play, and the report notes 13 different short-term recommendations, or "low-hanging fruit" utilities can implement now to successfully integrate wind energy within their control rooms, recommendations that are not dependent upon new regulatory or policy measures, additional research or other "catalyst activities."

(It also describes medium-term recommendations that will depend on new regulatory and public policy measures, or that require additional technology development and demonstration, as well as research activity recommendations, both basic and advanced.)

Technologists and technology manufacturers take note:

"Realizing a scenario of 20 percent wind energy by 2030 in the U.S. will be difficult if existing decision support tools in utility control centers do not evolve to meet the new challenges," the report indicated in a series of to-the-point conclusions. Another: "Efficiently integrating wind energy in power systems requires that forecast and uncertainty information be incorporated into real-time decision support systems and planning tools."

It's an excellent report, and a must-read for all in electric utility operations.

Kate Rowland
Editor-in-chief, Intelligent Utility magazine

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The first comment

It seems that the first commenter doesn't quite have a grasp of energy markets..  Clearly he must think that there is something unfair about "green" incentives, that its not the "free market" way of doing things; that it represents a "liberal"  ideology being imposed on him by government through his taxes; that "green" ought to stand on its own two feet and compete straight up with other forms of energy.  The following is the reality of our "free market" in energy: 

Average ANNUAL federal subsidies to oil & gas: $35 billion. This does not include many states who have their own programs, or defense spending. And this has been going on for decades.  It also does not include payments to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, or mine reclamation in uninsured areas.

Total available subsidies to each nuclear plant: $2 to 2.5 billion, not including loan guarantees. So far, $58 billion in nuclear loan guarantees. Total cents/kwh subsidy to nuclear: 8.3 to 8.5. How's that compare to PTC's for renewables?

As to defense spending, current estimates range between $97 and $215 billion for oil protection. That equates to a hidden tax of between $38 and $62 per barrel, or between $1.5 and $2.50 a gallon in addition to the $3 you pay at the pump. There are other estimates of the hidden tax as high as a $5/gallon. Why the various naval forces out there don't give shippers a collective annual bill for protection is beyond me.

Level playing fields and free enterprise are great, as long as everyone is playing under the same set of rules.  Let's drop "green" incentives, but  only if we also eliminate all the incentives for other forms of energy and then see who wins.

More of your tax dollars at work

This is a case of taxpayer funds being used to perform a study and prepare a report on integrating into the grid, paid for by the ratepayers (most of whom are taxpayers), sources of "green" energy which would not have been built if the federal government had not given still more of the taxpayers funds to the developers because the whole green energy push is not economically competitive--in fact, it is a scam because every nameplate MW of "green" energy generation has to be backed up by a MW of some other type of generation, typically fossil-fueled and much of it simple-cycle gas turbines which are a considerable way from being the most efficient users of fuel.

Want proof the green revolution is a scam?  Do two things:  1)  Do not extend the PTCs or cash-in-lieu programs; and, 2)  Tell the developers of large, remote wind farms and large, remote solar farms they must build the long distance transmission lines that are not part of the load center grids on their own dime since the power is unreliable and intermittent.  Either of these two items would put the brakes on any development of either.  And the beneficiaries of these tax dollar give-aways--well GE comes to mind since, from what I have read, they made $5.1 billion profit in the US market last year without paying any income taxes and are engaged in producing green generation equipment and developing wind projects.  They also manufacture the majority of the gas turbines used to back up wind and solar farms.

The PTCs and grants are a reverse "Robin Hood" scheme that takes money from taxpayers struggling to make ends meet in the present inflating market for damn near everything or business taxpayers struggling to keep their doors open to give to a bunch of fat-cat firms and useless fat-cat federal employees keeping the programs going and doling out the taxpayer money.


Getting the facts straight

First, this was a cost-shared project, of great importance to the electric utility industry as it moves to meet the renewable energy mandates set by many states. Second, I'd ask that you take the time to read the report, as well as the appendices, before jumping to dated conclusions. You want to have electricity on demand, right? You want to pay an affordable price for it, yes? Your utility company wants the same things, believe it or not: affordable, reliable electricity for its customers. I spend every day involved in utility and energy research, and speaking with utilities and their technology partners.

If you'd like to discuss this with me further, I'd be happy to talk to you. I ask that you read the report first. You'll find a direct link to it in my article.

Kate Rowland