New Study: Wind and Solar May Stabilize the Power Grid

September 15th, 2012
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect:  A study at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Stuttgart, Germany, has reported that decentralization of wind-powerSMALLpower generation can remove instabilities from grid systems that depend on a few centralized power generators.  Such decentralization can be achieved by use of distributed solar and wind generators according to the study.  The efficiency of the distributed system is acheived by linking sources of power generation with specific customer power uses (washing machines, computers, production equipment).  The result is a denser energy grid with fewer single points of possible grid failure.

Follow up:

The building of synchronization into the distribution of power must be done carefully according to the scientists at the Max Planck Institute; if not properly added additional internal links can reduce the transmission capacity of the overall grid.  The report does not specify how the diminution of transmission capacity is avoided.  Reading between the lines the implication is that there need be developed simulation programs that will aid in the design and organization of such distributed systems.

Here is an excerpt from the report which explains how the new ideas of electrical grid design are related to systems that occur in the natural world and some details about how future grids may be designed:

Synchronization, the coordinated dynamics of many units to the same timing is found throughout the natural world. Neurons in the brain often fire simultaneously, fireflies synchronize their blinking lights, and crickets chirp in shared rhythm. A similar form of harmony is also necessary in electricity networks, in that all generators and all machines that consume electricity must be tuned to the grid frequency of 50 Hertz. The generators of large power plants are regulated in such a way that they stay in rhythm with the power grid. The grid, in turn, imposes its frequency on the washing machines, vacuum cleaners and fridges at the other end of the line, so that all elements remain in synchrony, avoiding short circuits and emergency shutdowns.

In the course of the energy turnaround, however, the structure of the power grid will change. Today's large power plants that supply energy to the surrounding areas will be largely replaced by multiple photovoltaic panels on roofs, biogas systems on fields, and wind turbines on hills and offshore. Power lines will no longer form star-like networks and only transmit energy from large power plants to nearby consumers, but will look more like dense fishing nets linking many generators with the consumers. Experts believe it will be very difficult to bring this multiplicity of small generators into synchronous harmony. In effect, it would be like conducting a huge orchestra with thousands of musicians, instead of a chamber orchestra. However, as the Network Dynamics Group, headed by Marc Timme at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organisation in Göttingen has now discovered, synchronization in a decentralized power grid may actually be easier than previously thought, as a grid with many generators finds its own shared rhythm of alternating current.

The report modeled the use of solar and wind turbine generation distributed throughout a network.  Of course, other distributed generation systems could be used, such as small hydro-generation facilities, distributed natural gas powered turbines and small thorium nuclear reactors which have yet to be implemented on a commercial scale.

An advantage of a distributed and synchronized generation and utilization network could be the reduction of losses experienced over long distance transmission of electrical power.

John Lounsbury



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