With the growing relevance of distributed renewable energy sources in the generation mix and the increasingly pro-active demand for electricity, power systems and their mode of operation need to evolve, writes Paul Cuffe
Elec

 

Author: Dr Paul Cuffe, senior researcher, Electricity Research Centre, University College Dublin

Across Europe, electricity distribution systems are facing a host of new challenges. Most obviously, copious new renewable generation sources – mainly wind and photovoltaic – are now connecting to distribution networks that were previously used simply to serve loads.

In addition to this shift, emerging smart-metering devices and network-sensing technology now offer the potential to proactively manage loads in the network. The phenomenon of reverse-power flows, where the distribution network feeds power into the transmission system, is occurring more and more frequently across Europe and has become an accepted aspect of power-system operation.

How should a distribution system operator (DSO) evolve its business to keep abreast of all these manifold technological shifts and the associated challenges that they create? Beyond this, how should a DSO adjust its functions to respond to a developing regulatory and market environment? These questions form the central theme of a new EU Seventh Framework Programme-funded (FP7/2007-2014-funded) consortium project called evolvDSO, which got under way in September 2013.

The project brings together a consortium of players from across Europe, embracing distribution and transmission system operators, research institutes, and new market players. In all, some 16 consortium members from eight European countries will contribute to the 40-month project.

Ireland is taking a key role, being represented by both ESB Networks as a distribution system operator, and by the Electricity Research Centre (ERC) at University College Dublin. This new project builds on the long and fruitful history of collaboration between ESB Networks and the ERC.

FUTURE OF DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM OPERATORS  

evolvDSO participants (click to enlarge)

The project will define the future roles of distribution system operators and will develop new tools and methods to allow DSOs to efficiently fulfil their emerging roles. Many aspects of a DSO’s activities will be embraced, such as planning, operational scheduling, real-time operations and maintenance. Each of these aspects of the DSO’s business will be affected by the nascent changes in the energy landscape, and the evolvDSO project aims to steer a course into this uncertain future.

World-leading penetrations of wind generation, of 2073 MW, had been connected to Irish electricity networks by the end of 2013, with 1245 MW of this capacity connected at distribution voltages. This has given ESB Networks a valuable insight on how the future distribution system should be operated.

To put some context on the MW capacity figure, consider that on many occasions instantaneous wind penetration in Ireland has reached 50%, with over half of these wind generators connected at distribution voltages. The fact that approximately a quarter of the prevailing demand can be sourced from distributed generators represents a huge change in how power systems need to be operated.

It is a testament to all the players in the Irish energy industry that this continuing transformation has been managed so smoothly.

The evolvDSO project is a perfect opportunity to build on the lessons of the Irish experience and to profit from the perspectives of other European players. Notably, distribution-connected generation in Ireland has been dominated by wind, whereas in many European countries, photovoltaic solar is assuming the dominant role. Similar challenges are encountered in either case.

An important part of the first phase of evolvDSO is achieving a consensus on what are the possible new and evolving future roles of a European DSO. Once these are established, the more technical work can commence such as scoping and building software tools to facilitate the continuing evolution. One stream of the technical work will be led by UCD, being the impact assessment, an area where ESB Networks will also have substantial involvement.

TOOLS AND METHODOLOGIES

This assessment will examine the scalability of the various tools and methodologies developed in the project: how will they facilitate DSO transformations in each of the consortium countries? And can planning for hybrid load/generation distribution circuits be streamlined with the appropriate software tools?

The evolvDSO project does not restrict itself to theoretical exercises. The goal is to propose real solutions to pressing problems, and it is only right and fitting these should be tested on real hardware. The Irish players will seek, alongside their consortium partners, to validate any methodologies developed in the course of the project.

These validations may involve bench-testing of hardware or field-tests on live distribution circuits. This aspect of the evolvDSO project again highlights the benefit of bringing together research and industry players in one international consortium.

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n.608732.

Paul Cuffe holds BE and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from University College Dublin. He is currently a senior researcher within the Electricity Research Centre at UCD, working principally on the evolvDSO project. His research interests are in reactive power management, distribution generation and in power system visualisation techniques.

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Evolv-1024x683.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Evolv-300x300.jpgDavid O'RiordanElecelectricity,ESB,research,UCD
  Author: Dr Paul Cuffe, senior researcher, Electricity Research Centre, University College Dublin Across Europe, electricity distribution systems are facing a host of new challenges. Most obviously, copious new renewable generation sources – mainly wind and photovoltaic – are now connecting to distribution networks that were previously used simply to serve loads. In...