Complex Made Simple

Beyond supply and demand: The dynamic power grid

Power generation was once a linear equation: power stations produced electricity and communities used it. And power suppliers handled fluctuations in demand by firing up gas turbines or using pumped-storage hydroelectric plants. If customers required more power, producers just generated more.

But the power grid is a lot more complicated these days now that renewable energy is becoming a viable alternative. Networks are evolving to accommodate increasingly decentralized power resources comprising millions of different “prosumers,” i.e. consumers (households, commercial buildings, and or industrial facilities) that contribute energy to the grid from solar panels and or wind turbines or biomass facilities, etc.

This change in the power generation landscape also means a unique opportunity for the Middle East, where there is a growing green power trend. In the United Arab Emirates, the renewable technology company, Masdar, launched “Shams 1,” the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant. Masdar’s renewable energy portfolio accounts for nearly 68 percent of the Gulf’s renewable energy capacity and 10 percent of the world’s installed CSP capacity.

In a further demonstration of its commitment to sustainability, a pillar of Dubai’s World Expo 2020, DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) has also assigned a large part of the budget to clean-energy-related projects in support of the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to provide 75 percent of Dubai”s total power output from clean energy by 2050. Further afield, with a feed-in tariff program in place, Egypt plans up to 2,300 megawatts of solar and up to 2,000 megawatts of wind generation by 2016.

These advances have made smart grids indispensable to balancing the supply and demand of power. They help to regulate power generation and prevent network overloads by ensuring that only as much electricity is fed into the network as is actually needed. Siemens Smart Grid software solution, for example ensures network stability in the face of fluctuating power supplies from solar and wind facilities.

One of the major challenges associated with renewable energy is that the power is often produced far from where it is needed. This is especially true of wind turbines. Because electricity generation from renewable sources fluctuates with weather conditions, energy storage devices will increasingly be needed to store surplus electricity from the smart grid for hours, days, and even weeks, if necessary.

One storage solution that is already available is the modular energy storage system Siestorage. It buffers short-term fluctuations in power output from renewable energy sources. Siestorage is based on lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, and the large version of the system fits into a standard twenty-foot container. It can store 1,000-kilowatt hours of electricity, which is about the average daily power consumption of 100 households.

Looking ahead, smart grids will be critical to ensure network stability by helping to establish a balance between power generation and demand. In conjunction with energy storage devices, they enable distributed power producers to be integrated into the grid on a large scale.

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