Understanding the Grid: A Conversation With Our Expert
In 2015, Canada set its bold benchmark to fight climate change. One by one, we have seen pledges from different provinces committing to reduce GHG emissions by investing in renewable energy sources. As we begin to consider the implications of what these commitments will require, it becomes increasingly clear that wind generated electricity will be the leading technology and driver to meet these targets. However, there are still many misleading concerns surrounding wind energy and its integration into our different grid structures. We sat down with our Grid Integration Expert, Samer El Itani, to discuss and demystify some of the top concerns in Grid Integration and turbine technology.
Q: Some people express concerns that the electric grid will be less reliable in the future due to the large integration of wind power into the grid. Where do you stand on this as an expert in the integration of renewables?
It is important to recognise that this concern arises from the outdated notion that wind farms do not provide the full range of ancillary services that conventional generation does, and therefore cannot be considered as a power plant per se. But is this actually true? Let’s first look at the core capabilities of a power plant. A conventional power plant is a facility that can ride through system voltage & frequency disturbances, provide voltage control, control active power and ramp rates, and provide frequency response.
Now let’s look at today’s wind farms: Any modern wind turbine generator is designed to ride through a wide range of system disturbances and a fast voltage control. The control is available even when the wind is not blowing. As for frequency support, the behavior of conventional synchronous machine (inertial response and governor control) can be flexibly emulated by a modern wind farm. This is one of the takeaways out of experience in Québec over the past four years: there is no grid functionality related to grid stability that conventional generators can do and wind power plants cannot. Wind turbines meet the standard power plan criteria and go beyond the standard to best support the grid.
Q: Can you tell us more about Senvion’s technology and its process of integration to the electricity grid?
Senvion has a very strong grid integration process, and our contribution comes from developing a process specifically created for our Canadian projects, dealing with the many different grid integration requirements across the country. This process consists of four major stages: product development, project engineering, field validation and performance monitoring.
Early on during product development, and through comprehensive market research and discussions with the stakeholders, we ensure that current and future needs are fully captured and aligned with our product specifications to pursue the proper turbine design decisions. When a project opportunity is spotted, our grid engineering efforts are kicked off with system impact studies and project-specific solutions. Later comes substation and collector system design, turbine parameterization and system integration. Then, after delivery comes field validation. Measurements are conducted and project-specific adjustments are brought in as needed. Performance monitoring follows as a core activity throughout the wind project’s lifetime. Through disturbance recording, and status code analysis of real grid events, we ensure that our product configuration is continually optimized.
Thanks to this consolidated approach, we never miss any chance to add value to our projects in terms of grid performance.
Q: The use and integration of wind energy has grown exponentially in Canada. Our country is now the 6th largest producer of wind. What are the challenges that you see now versus 5 years ago for the integration of wind, and how are you facing them?
Wind power penetration levels have been on a remarkable rise for the last decade. From a grid integration standpoint, the most prominent challenges have been: increase in penetration levels, wind power getting into weak grids and remote places, and optimizing asset utilization for existing fleets.
To address these challenges, the key words for Senvion are flexibility in technology and partnership with stakeholders. Think about an off-grid wind farm supplying a mine or a remote community. We are currently looking at such a project including diesel generation, battery storage, a biomass plant, and photovoltaic panels, integrated to works seamlessly with our turbines.
On the product development side, the integration of the different features is a challenge. Better tower management, de-icing and anti-icing features, failure mode behavior and similar topics may seem disconnected from grid functionalities, but they are not. They have to be integrated into the same control architecture and give rise to new behavior scenarios.
With new markets opening up to the idea of renewables, such as Alberta for example, come new grid requirements. And with new grid functionalities new project opportunities open up. I can proudly and safely say that Senvion doesn’t miss an opportunity to adapt its technology to integrate seamlessly into the grid; in doing so it also helps the grid become more reliable. I don’t see the limit to where we can go, and it looks pretty exciting!