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As more national grid networks take up renewables, are they ready for the increase in generated capacity across the supply chain?

There is more to an electric grid than merely the electricity generation and transmission associated with it. The entire supply chain consists of asset owners and stakeholders, manufacturers, government officials at various levels, and finally the consumers. While the first two invest capital, effort, and brainpower in generation and transmission, government officials aim to increase the ease of doing business while also regulating the industry. Increasing population means increased energy needs which in turn translate into higher capacity requirements.

But almost none of the grid networks around the world were established keeping renewable prospects in mind. Electricity generation and transmission capacity requirements necessitate a drive towards inclusion of renewable energy. This, coupled with decarbonization efforts, brings with it a drove of challenges.

Increasing transmission capacity

It is not always necessary to build altogether new transmission lines in order to increase transmission capacity. Instead, innovative grid technologies exist that amplify the existing transmission infrastructure and cater to increased energy capacity needs.

How the British tackle capacity increment

National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET) in the UK has led various initiatives in light of recent capacity challenges. They are the pioneers behind the world’s first large-scale use of a modular power flow solution based on Static synchronous series compensator (SSSC) technology. This culminated in the form of almost 50 SmartValve installations across three National Grid substations in England in early 2021.

The result? A total of 1.5 gigawatts of extra capacity was released from the existing grid infrastructure. In addition to the colossal capacity freeing, this project also delivered a cost saving of around £380,000,000. SmartValves bring about such an optimization of the electric grid by rerouting electricity from overloaded transmission lines to underutilized ones. These devices are controlled using a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system that allows autonomous maintenance of each individual installation.

After the success of this pilot project, the National Grid is now planning to roll out a large-scale application of the power flow control technology in 2022. It is predicted to add an extra 500 megawatt of capacity to the UK power network.

The American plan to expand and modernize the grid

The Problem

The U.S. power Transmission and Distribution (T&D) system has sometimes been referred to as the world’s largest machine. This enormous system is responsible for delivering power from almost 3000 power plants across the country to virtually every building around the continental United States. This, intuitively, is no easy feat. The Transmission half of the T&D system constitutes around 163,000 miles of high-voltage (up to 765 kilovolts) electrical conductors and over 15,000 substations. The Distribution half additionally consists of millions of miles of lower-voltage conductors that distribute power from substations to over 130 million consumers. This “network” ensures that electrical power has more than a single path to follow from the sources to the sinks.

This T&D system, impressive as it is, is subject to inadequacies and inefficiencies. Ever-increasing power demand is aggravated by insufficient capacity of the existing transmission infrastructure. Calls for large scale decarbonization efforts and increased dependence on renewables further exacerbate the crisis.

The Solutions

Generating capacity can be more than just one-dimensional, however. Americans for a Clean Energy Grid (ACEG) produced an extremely profound report, titled Transmission Projects Ready to Go: Plugging into America’s Untapped Renewable Resources, to address just this concept. They drew attention to the job-creation potential of high-voltage transmission projects, just 22 of which could create over 1.2 million jobs. Around half of these are transmission-related while the other half are related to clean energy generation. These 22 projects would also increase the energy capacity of the existing transmission infrastructure in the US by 60,000 megawatts and allow for a 50 per cent increase in wind and solar power generation.

A renewed electric grid is also a fundamental tenet of President Biden’s 2021 American Jobs Plan. The expansion and modernization of the electric grid under this plan intends for a multifaceted result; job creation, increase in grid reliability, and climate change action. The Department of Energy is aiming, with such projects, to accelerate American economic development and minimize power outages. This approach to a modernized grid aims to provide more sustainable, resilient, and reliable energy transmission all over the country. National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy noted that power outages such as the Texas transmission debacle further enforce the need to invest in the national electric grid.

Conclusion

From national economy and security to the safety and health of the common citizen, almost all aspects of a country’s endurance are affected by the reliability of electricity delivery. Increased inclusion of renewables means increased energy generation. But this increase must be met with an equal increase in the transmission capacity of the electric grid. Government legislations and innovative technologies of the 21st century are joining efforts to make this step towards modernized grids as seamless and efficient as possible.

Aptimize helps manage both ageing and newer assets to optimize expenditure, risk, and performance. It also helps you make informed, data-driven decisions towards capacity increment while keeping regulatory requirements in check.

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