Power grids are an essential in the modern society since they supply a huge amount of power for buildings in an instant. Currently, there are no energy delivery methods that can match the scale and speed of power grids. While power grids offer a lot of advantages, they come with they have their own technical limitations. These limitations can lead to blackouts when the grid cannot keep up with the consumption.
Power grids often operate at partial capacity. This is mainly due to the fluctuation in energy demands. For example, at midnight, the power grids are lightly loaded since most of the population is asleep and use less equipment. However, during summer days, the power grids are pushed to their limits as buildings are operating the air conditioning systems at full capacity.
Below are the 4 technologies that will benefit the power grid.
- Battery Systems
Recently, energy storage systems have gained tremendous popularity, and there is a good reason for it. Renewable energy systems coupled with battery storage is capable of producing energy that is cheaper than coal. Keep in mind that coal has been the cheapest power source for decades.
While renewable energy systems sound great, our grids are yet to become 100% renewable.
Renewable energy systems like solar panels and wind turbines can generate energy when their inputs, solar and wind respectively, are available. When the inputs to solar system and wind turbines are unavailable, the energy generation drops down drastically.
On the other hand, fossil fuel energy systems are more expensive and generate a lot more emissions. But they can produce electricity at any given point of time.
To overcome this limitation of renewable energy systems, they can be coupled with battery systems. In simple words, surplus energy can be stored in the battery systems when electricity production is higher. This surplus energy can be utilized when the inputs, sunlight and wind, of the renewable systems is limited.
Another promising concept is the virtual power plant. In a virtual power plant, multiple batteries in buildings are linked together. With proper coordination between energy storage capacity and power output, virtual power plants can make the grid more flexible.
- EV Chargers
In states with high adoption of solar power, like California, the excess electricity generated by solar panels can become a problem. During such times, grid operators are forced to lower the electricity production from traditional power stations. This can also lead to the grid becoming unstable of suffer from blackouts in some cases.
Commercial building with EV chargers offer 3 important benefits –
- Use the excess electricity generation from building’s renewable energy systems to charge the plugged-in EVs.
- Decarbonizing the transportation sector
- Encourage the use of EVs due to availability of EV chargers
When renewable energy sources are combined with battery systems in buildings, EV chargers can absorb and use the solar energy generation peaks.
- Chiller Plants with Ice Storage
The power grid is often pushed to its limit during summer days due to various buildings using their air conditioning systems at full capacity. To keep up with the demand, electric companies are constantly upgrading the power lines and transformers. But the investment required for this to happen, is recovered from increasing the electricity prices.
Building’s chiller plants can be configured to produce ice during off-peak hours or when renewable energy systems produce excess power. To reduce the workload on the grid, chillers can be ramped down during high demand hours. To meet the required air conditioning, the stored ice can be melted.
This concept when applied in district cooling systems, the power consumption of many buildings can be lowered all at once. In the US, Chicago uses this concept to reduce the demand by 200 MW when melting ice.
- Controlled Loads
The concept of controlled loads is very simple and is used to reduce the grid demand. Some electrical devices can accomplish their function regardless of the time of the day due to their flexible operating schedule. These devices are connected to a separate power meter, which get a lower tariff. In exchange of the lower tariff benefit, the building owner can only use these electrical devices when the grid not heavily loaded, and never during the peak demand.
Controlled load is an excellent option for pool heaters, as they can reduce the operating costs by running during off-peak hours.
Michael Tobias, PE, is the principal and founder of NY Engineers. He leads a team of over 50 MEP/FP engineers. Although New York Engineers main headquarters are in NYC, the business has led over 1,000 engineering projects in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Malaysia and Singapore. Michael is an advocate for green technology and energy efficiency, and approaches engineering as a vehicle to raise the quality of life.