En­sur­ing Ire­land leads the way in re­new­able elec­tric­ity

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS INNOVATION - BARRY McCALL

While the cli­mate change de­bate in Ire­land may be dom­i­nated by this coun­try’s poor per­for­mance in meet­ing tar­gets set for it by EU and in­ter­na­tional agree­ments, this dis­guises the fact that we are in fact global lead­ers when it comes to in­cor­po­rat­ing re­new­ables on the elec­tric­ity grid.

While the tar­get for elec­tric­ity is to have 40 per cent gen­er­ated by re­new­able sources by 2020, the grid of­ten runs with 65 per cent from those sources. “No one else in the world is achiev­ing that,” says Jon O’Sul­li­van, in­no­va­tion man­ager with Eir­Grid. “And we are now look­ing at in­creas­ing that to 75 per cent.”

The dif­fi­cul­ties in terms of vari­abil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity pre­sented by re­new­able en­ergy sources are well doc­u­mented. The wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun­shine is cer­tainly not guar­an­teed in Ire­land. This means the net­work has to have re­serve ca­pac­ity avail­able to it should sup­ply from re­new­able sources drop.

But that is not the only prob­lem. The other prob­lem is re­silience. Most peo­ple are bliss­fully un­aware of the fact that there are ac­tu­ally two com­po­nents to the power gen­er­ated by con­ven­tional elec­tric­ity sta­tions. The first is the elec­tri­cal en­ergy we are fa­mil­iar with, the se­cond is known as the re­ac­tive com­po­nent. In very crude terms, this is the bit that drives it through the wires of the trans­mis­sion net­work.

O’Sul­li­van de­scribes it as the glue that holds the net­work to­gether.

The prob­lem with re­new­able en­ergy is that it doesn’t con­tain that com­po­nent. Be­cause it is gen­er­ated us­ing elec­tronic rather than electro-mag­netic gen­er­a­tion, it is fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent to con­ven­tional power.

Mix­ing the two is not an is­sue at low lev­els as the sys­tem still has enough re­ac­tive power to cope. When you get to lev­els of 65 per cent and above, how­ever, you start to run into real prob­lems. This means that a num­ber of re­new­able en­ergy sup­pli­ers can­not sell to the grid as their tech­nolo­gies are deemed un­proven or not to meet cur­rent stan­dards and com­pli­ance re­quire­ments.

New tech­nolo­gies

Eir­Grid has re­sponded by de­vel­op­ing a novel and ef­fi­cient trial process for re­new­able en­ergy sup­pli­ers to qual­ify to sup­ply ser­vices to the grid.

The qual­i­fi­ca­tion tri­als process ran for six months in 2017 and fo­cused on three key ar­eas – the pro­vi­sion of re­serve ca­pac­ity which is avail­able in­stantly should re­new­able or other sources drop out, the pro­vi­sion of what is known as ramp­ing power which can be called up in a mat­ter of hours, and ser­vices which ad­dress the re­ac­tive power is­sue.

The process has seen a num­ber of new tech­nolo­gies demon­strate their abil­ity to pro­vide ser­vices and con­trib­ute to the se­cu­rity of the sys­tem, de­liver con­sumer value for money, and fa­cil­i­tate the re­duc­tion in car­bon emis­sions and fur­ther de­ploy­ment of re­new­able tech­nolo­gies. This will fa­cil­i­tate the growth from 65 per cent to 75 per cent re­new­ables ca­pac­ity on the grid by 2020. “There isn’t an­other power sys­tem in the world that can do that,” says O’Sul­li­van.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: CONOR MCCABE

■ Daniel Dixon, Ciara Moore and Jon O’Sul­li­van of Eir­grid at the fi­nal judg­ing round for this year’s awards at the RDS, Dublin on Tues­day.

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