More renewables mean less stable grids, researchers find

Posted: January 11, 2018 by oldbrew in Analysis, Energy, research
Tags: ,

Who knew? Apart from nearly everyone who ever gave it any thought, that is. But if confirmation and analysis from published research is needed, PEI reports it here. It seems to be worse than they thought.

Grid stability is likely to be increasingly challenged as power distribution moves from a centralized to a more decentralized model, new research has found.

According to a paper published this week in the journal Nature Energy by researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and the UK’s Queen Mary University of London, integrating growing numbers of renewable power installations and microgrids onto the grid can result in larger-than-expected fluctuations in grid frequency.

The researchers collected data from grids of various sizes in Germany, France, the UK, Finland, Mallorca, Japan and the US. Based on this data, they developed mathematical models that “can establish the influence of making the grid smaller or of adding a bit more renewable energy” in order to aid in planning, said Professor Christian Beck of Queen Mary University, one of the paper’s co-authors.

The team found that small grids like Mallorca’s displayed larger frequency deviations than larger grids, such as continental Europe’s. And comparing different regions showed that a larger share of renewable generation resulted in larger frequency deviations.

“The grid operators want the frequency to be 50 Hz, but it fluctuates a little bit around this all the time,” said Beck. “We can now establish the probability that the deviation is more than 2 per cent or so, which is a big deviation, and we found that the probability of that is higher than expected from pure random fluctuation.”

Beck told PEi that the research team’s “first surprise was that energy trading had a significant impact on the grids studied” after Germany’s grid and others displayed particularly large fluctuations every 15 minutes, corresponding to spot market trading.

“The grid frequency had big jumps every 15-30 minutes,” he said, “and it wasn’t clear to us before that trading has such a big effect. Most people were worried about renewables because they are unpredictable and certainly produce fluctuations in frequency. Trading gives a similar order of, or stronger, fluctuation, which hadn’t been clear to us or, I think, to most people.”

Comparatively, the research showed that a larger share of renewable generation in a given region resulted in larger deviations from the standard 50 Hz. For example, the UK, with more renewables than the US, also had larger frequency deviations. To integrate more renewables onto the UK grid, the research team recommends increasing primary control and demand response.

“The UK is somewhat special,” Beck said, “in that it has a much higher component of wind power contributing, and it also has an overall smaller grid than the rest of Europe. Still, frequency fluctuations caused by trading seem to be at least as relevant as fluctuations caused by renewables.”

Continued here.

  1. rms says:

    Sad that it took a “researcher” to figure this out. Simple engineers knew and publicised this a long time ago.

  2. p.g.sharrow says:

    Back in the 1980s the ENRON corporation traders discovered that they could manipulate the grid to generate $billions in profits thru energy supply bidding by slowing generation while offering to increase the supply by spot generation to re-balance the grid. With the demise of ENRON due to getting caught, those traders went to work for others as they joined the Ecoloons in creating this Alternative Energy boondoggle…pg

  3. Mjw says:

    More renewables,less stability.
    Bet they had to go to university to figure that one out.

  4. Stuart Brown says:

    I’m just in awe of these guys for getting that paper published! Congratulations too for pointing out that putting thimblerigging conmen in charge of energy supply is not a good idea.

    Now we need another paper that says that grids under the control of engineers who can do forward planning and least cost design produce more stable and economic supply 🙂

  5. Stuart Brown says:

    I meant to add this graphic from too.

  6. nzrobin says:

    Indeed. What a surprise. Take a look at Have a look back to about April last year when I started to write this up. I suppose it’s good that they’re starting to cotton on. Though they don’t seem to have picked up on the importance of synchronous inertia yet.

  7. oldbrew says:

    EIA estimates that solar and wind power together will provide less than 10 percent of America’s energy in 2050. In contrast, oil and natural gas supply more than two-thirds of the nation’s energy and the EIA forecasts that share will continue through 2050 and beyond.
    . . .
    The reality is that the U.S. is a world leader in the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions due to the increased use of natural gas.

    Let’s say so-called ‘greenhouse-gas’ emissions.

  8. oldbrew says:

    Water-saving measures in California have also led to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and electricity consumption in the state.
    . . .
    In California, the water and energy utility sectors are closely interdependent. The energy used by the conveyance systems that move water from the wetter North to the drier and more heavily populated South – combined with utility energy use for treatment and distribution, end-user water consumption for heating, and additional pumping and treatment – accounts for 19 per cent of total electricity demand and 32 per cent of total non-power plant natural gas demand state-wide.

    Read more at:

  9. ivan says:

    At last the academics are beginning to see the light and have discovered the problem. Now the problem is what will they do about it?

    The simplest solution is to cut out all the unreliables from the grid but that would end the green dream so it is a no no.

    The next best answer is to insist that every wind farm and solar array has a conventional power station (with output the same as the nameplate value of the farm) running as a spinning reserve. This would do two things, 1) stabilise the power in the grid by not having the base load generators needing to ramp up or down output because of unreliables and 2) give the grid adequate reserve in place of the STORE diesel generators.

    Of course neither of these simple solutions will be considered until there is catastrophic failure that blacks out the country for several days (it can and most probably will happen) and the population starts making demands and the government falls.

  10. oldbrew says:

    UK’s largest battery storage portfolio unveiled

    “Batteries hold the key to the future of the power landscape, both in the UK and internationally. Ensuring grid resilience is a necessary step in the growth of renewable generation.”

    Batteries pump up the cost of renewables even further.

  11. Jim says:

    Aha, finally, a paper on costs and reliability. Amazing. Now, maybe an student, will research frequency generation practices of the utilities. And how lack of proper frequencies affect/effect the costs? And the consumer. I already know what happens, but it would be nice if academia would ” reknow” it.

  12. Gamecock says:

    ‘Grid stability is likely to be increasingly challenged as power distribution moves from a centralized to a more decentralized model, new research has found.’

    As the grid becomes unstable, people will move off of it. WOW! Wish I had thought of that.

    Oh. I did.

    “The simplest solution is to cut out all the unreliables from the grid but that would end the green dream so it is a no no.”

    Or require wind/solar power for the grid to go to batteries, and the only power to the grid comes from the batteries. That would cure management problems.

    “Batteries pump up the cost of renewables even further.”

    The cost of batteries capable of storing days worth of electricity would be astronomical. And still wouldn’t cure intermittency. And would further require new multiples of the wind/solar generation to be able to charge them.

  13. oldbrew says:

    We all know it’s the economics of the madhouse, but that doesn’t seem to bother most of the head-in-the-clouds western leaders apart from businessman Trump, who can spot a scam as obvious as that a mile off.

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