Though renewables are more environmentally friendly, the electricity is often “dirtier” than conventional generation. The electricity from wind and solar goes through inverters. This creates problems for grid operators, who are already coping with the peculiarities of an aging grid. National Instrument’s CompactRIO platform has greatly increased National Grid UK’s ability to react to grid fluctuations.
“We don’t specialize in one-off problems, we specialize in platforms,” said Brett Burger, NI’s senior product marketing manager of smart grid systems.
He compares his companies platform to a computer or a smartphone. Both can be used for many functions, depending on the software being used.
Grid operators of a generation ago did not need the sophisticated equipment that their modern counterparts need. One of National Grid UK’s new programs is a heat map of their grid, which displays harmonics displayed in colors ranging from green to yellow, and, finally, red as the quality degrades. This allows them to see where problems are developing. They can now look at the 100th-order harmonics, while they were previously restricted to the 20th. This is a 400% improvement.
Some of the UK’s offshore wind farms generate several hundreds of MW, which is on the same order of magnitude as a coal-fired powered plant.
The offshore wind is on the same order of magnitude as a coal fired power plant, but unlike the coal powered plant the generation is more dynamic. The amount of energy a wind farm produces depends on how the wind is blowing, how much is blowing and what time of day it is.
In addition to renewable energy, the UK also has high voltage DC interconnects with neighboring countries. This energy also comes though inverters, and may subject the grid to poor quality electricity.
Though the environmental impact of renewable energy sources is very positive, they can be problematic. Grid operators need tools and technology to help them control their transmission on the grid. Technologies like National Instrument’s (NI) Grid Automation System and CompactRIO are vital to integrate renewables on the grid.
Image Credits: National Grid UK; Brett Burger, NI’s Sr. Product Marketing Manager – Smart Grid Systems, via National Instruments; harmonics graph, via National Instruments
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