Energy Source and Distribution catches up with Siemens Energy Storage business development manager Marcel Brzank to talk about designing microgrids, reliability, and how technology is changing the rule that generation has to be equal to demand.
From an engineer’s perspective, how does an increase in utility-scale renewable capacity challenge Australia’s grid stability?
It’s challenging to integrate generation capacity you can’t entirely control unless you switch it off. There are already great examples of successful integrations here in Australia and with every new project we are getting better. Today we also have the opportunity to use new technologies such as grid-scale energy storage and smart grid control systems to mitigate risks for network quality, and getting more efficiency out of renewables.
Fluctuations in power generation require intelligent control as well as optimum load and generation forecasting. What projects are you working on to ensure reliable power supply as Australia moves towards a more diverse energy mix?
We are currently working with customers around Australia on a number of large-scale energy storage projects. This technology is changing the rule that generation has to be equal to the demand. Having a storage component in the equation means fluctuation can be balanced and more distributed energy sources can be added and optimally integrated for a more diverse and stable energy mix.
What challenges are posed to the grid by the growing uptake of disruptive technologies, rooftop solar for example?
I am a big fan of lessons learned, and looking internationally we can see other countries are ahead in understanding this challenge and have introduced good solutions. In Germany for example, there is now support for people buying home energy storage to work in conjunction with small-scale rooftop solar systems. This adds stability to the network and optimises the performance of the solar system – wins for both sides of the meter!
What energy-efficient processes can industry put in place to keep costs at the lowest possible level?
If the ‘lowest possible cost’ for energy is the target moving forwards, this can be challenging, especially for renewables. Before we put the right processes in place an agreed target would be beneficial for that industry. One example of successful process in place is the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). This institution supports the implementation of renewable energy solutions to make it more affordable and to overcome introduction barriers.
What are the commercial challenges of integrating renewable energy sources and storage systems into the supply grid?
The business case needs to stack up. For example, there are customers supporting new technologies by stretching the return of investment time to make it easier to compensate a cost disadvantage. Otherwise, we work closely together to develop a clear value proposition leading into a working business case.
What research is Siemens doing into electric vehicles and how they will effect the grid in the next 5-10 years?
Siemens started investing heavily into research for electric vehicle infrastructure several years ago. Today this is reflected in our portfolio and we can offer integration solutions. For example, in assisting the energy networks to provide enough capacity to charge these cars and also to manage billing data.
How is the role of an engineer in the energy industry evolving as demand to come up with new ways to manage the traditional electrical grid grows?
That’s engineering – we like challenges and will work on these to manage the transition into the future gird. We also live in a global community and it’s increasingly possible to share knowledge across communities, allowing us to learn faster and to avoid setbacks.
Who’s leading the way with microgrids locally?
Microgrids are small networks dedicated to serve remote communities or industrial sites. However, the opportunities for application can also be extended through to other fields like commercial buildings. The main difference to the big interconnected grids on the east and west coast are that all functions are integrated into a smaller network with the same requirements for reliability, stability and performance. Most of these microgrids are currently powered by fossil fuel and due to cost competitive renewable energy sources there is a transition going on to replace fossil generation capacity. This is quite challenging and a good example for a successful project is the King Island Project between Tasmania and the Australian mainland.
What factors need to be taken into consideration when designing a microgrid?
The geographical area, energy flows and assets are all important considerations. It’s also necessary to work out different scenarios for the future to make the grid ‘future-proof’. One of the ways in which Siemens supports customers in relation to microgrids is to help determine the right concept for the right application.