Future airline and ships will be powered by data, but many more will be powered by electricity. The electric car has made its flashy debut and hit the road; the solar-powered electric plane recently completed its round-the-world trip. Decades ago, it was but a vision for the entire generation to imagine a fully electrified kitchen; I would not be surprised that years from now, electricity will be the blood pumping through the veins of our future society.
More energy and electricity will be needed to fuel the higher levels of activity and living standards.
As the world economy continues to expand, according to World Energy Outlook report, energy demand is set to grow by nearly a third between 2013 and 2040.
To achieve this growth in a fast and cost-effective way, the 21st century’s major energy challenge is delivering electricity as efficiently as possible. The focus should not be purely placed on building new plants and facilities, but rather on producing energy in the most efficient way. The aim to have the lowest losses possible while maintaining a high-quality level will, in turn, help provide more energy for these economies to continue to grow and prosper. Here we look at the three main challenges and solutions in delivering this.
1) Stabilizing the grid
The electricity grid is a complex system in which power supply and demand must be equal at any given moment. Constant adjustments to the supply are needed for predictable changes in demand, such as the daily patterns of human and industrial activity, as well as unexpected changes from equipment overloads and storms.
Combating the unexpected is the rise of renewable energy. According to IEA, renewable electricity additions will top 700 gigawatts by 2020, equalling the share of renewable energy in global power generation rising to over 26 percent. But renewable energy is unpredictable in nature, leading to overloads and the potential for blackouts. This has been a particular problem in countries such as China and the U.S. where either weak or patchwork grid infrastructure has led to the curtail of renewable production. To maintain reliability and quality of power supply in this environment, economical and efficient solutions are needed to provide dynamic voltage support and fast reactive power compensation.
Developments in battery storage are key to ensuring renewables become a viable long-term power source by allowing excess power generated to be stored for use at a time when power demand is higher, creating a more flexible and reliable grid system.
In addition, flexible alternating current transmission systems (FACTS) help grid operators maximize power flow along existing lines and improve steady state and dynamic stability with the grid.
2) Maximizing grid productivity
The world is constantly evolving. The retirement of baseload plants, increasingly stringent environmental regulations, alongside greater cross-border trading are all making grid stability and productivity more complex. This trend is widespread, and in a society where our consumption of energy shows no sign of slowing down, logic dictates that the energy deficit must be made up. This means that new solutions are needed to provide voltage support and fast reactive power compensation.
Dynamic voltage control as well as increased power transfer capabilities are needed to help maximize grid productivity, which can translate directly to a plant’s productivity and customer’s revenue. GE developed SVC (Static VAr Compensator) and STATCOM (Static Synchronous Compensator) to contribute to meet these needs. They are easy to integrate into both new and existing grid structures and can help improve grid reliability and avoid upgrade costs for grid connections. Synchronous Compensation Machines can additionally provide short circuit power and transient inertia. A STATCOM offers a fast response time as well as the ability to generate or absorb reactive power when the grid voltage drops, helping to increase the reliability and availability of grid operation.
Power quality also needs to improve—by using equipment that has a lower harmonics level—to create a resilient and clean electrical network and therefore increase productivity.
3) Improving transmission
With land costs rising and power plants being built in increasingly remote locations, plant operators need to be able to transmit power over very long distances, while keeping power losses to a minimum and transfer capability to a maximum. This issue is rising as urbanization in developing countries continues to gather pace.
High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) is the answer to one of the biggest challenges faced by energy managers: move more power more efficiently with the lowest losses possible. Compared to AC systems, HVDC is more energy efficient over long distances, while the real power and reactive power flow is fully controllable, fast and accurate.
As world energy demand continues to increase, and pressures on the grid continues to grow, it is crucial that we adapt and continue to improve our technological abilities. Understanding and maximizing the energy efficiency of our existing infrastructures will play a critical role in helping us to meet the energy demands of today and tomorrow.