A big gray box: Can it solve the renewables integration dilemma?

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By: SGN Staff

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Cornwall, a county on the southwest peninsular tip of Great Britain, may be experiencing too much of a good thing. More than 80 MW of electricity is being pumped out by wind, hydroelectric, solar and other renewable energy sources, and it's putting a tremendous strain  on the electric grid.

 

And that strain is so significant electrical contractor and electrical power industry services company Western Power Distribution (WPD) has warned that major grid reinforcement is needed if the county continues to pile on the renewables.

 

That's likely to happen.

 

An additional 40 solar farms are coming that will bring 250 MW more renewable energy onto the grid, which could make Cornwall a net exporter of power at times, according to a BBC News story.

 

That's why they're conducting trials of what has been variously called a "big gray box" and "a very clever box," otherwise known as the Static VAr Compensator for Distribution Networks (D-SVC). The compensator adjusts voltage output at Cornwall's Roscrow wind farm to avoid overloading the grid.

 

Roger Hey of WPD's Future Networks team said that if the trials are successful, new renewable energy sources can connect to the grid without very expensive grid reinforcement.

 

"The results have been impressive, and we have already decided to take an extra three units from the supplier to do a bigger trial," Hey said, adding "In the future such devices may mean we can connect solar and wind farms to the grid quicker and cheaper."

 

In other words, this is an occasion where a smart grid solution looks like the most cost-effective and fastest option for dealing with the strain of growing amounts of renewable power generation.

 

And in related news...

POWER Engineers, a global consulting and engineering company, has wrapped up work on a control system to directly manage output for the Canadian Hills Wind Project, Oklahoma's largest wind farm.

 

POWER installed a real-time automation controller that uses emerging international standard IEC 61850 protocols to control several of Canadian Hills' 135 turbines and manage real and reactive power.

 

That degree of control is extremely important because output at the wind farm is determined by five separate power purchase agreements and will need to be reduced and metered for each agreement.

 

IEC 61850 was developed to standardize substation Ethernet networks, promote interoperability of equipment that uses object-oriented data models and give more information for improved control systems, with the intent of providing more useful information for less cost than current designs.

 

 

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