In the second part of our series, we will talk about different concepts for Virtual Power Plants on islands and island groups for providing a sustainable and secure power supply.
In the last part, we explained the fundamental question of energy supply on islands. In this part, we will go into more detail on how to provide a secure and ecological power supply on islands: With a Virtual Power Plant, many small generating units can be aggregated to form a secure and efficient island power supply, thus reducing the amount of fossil fuels used.
Virtual Power Plants for the island grid of the future
Self-sufficient island power grids with a large share of renewable energies usually consist of many small-scale, individual units that either consume electricity, produce electricity or store electricity. These units are networked via mobile data connections with a central control station that monitors and controls all events in its area of operation. Together they form a so-called Virtual Power Plant (VPP). The power production of such a Virtual Power Plant can be controlled similar to the power production of any regular large-scale power plant.
In recent years, Virtual Power Plants have shown that they can provide a reliable power supply and that an aggregated system comprised of power producers, consumers and storage facilities is economically sound. Already today, Virtual Power Plants demonstrate that they are an integral asset of a modern power grid. Operations in various national grids prove their usefulness, although at the moment VPPs are only one market player among others.
On islands, though, VPPs would probably be responsible for the entire power supply, including the control of the island power grid. This brings additional benefits such as the forecasting and coordination of decentralized power generators, consumers and storage in real time, the provision of reserve power within seconds, the highly flexible ability to react to weather influences, and much more. This may come in cheaper than installing a centralized infrastructure, but it will definitively be greener and because of the decentralized network topology also safer.
Active integration of electricity consumers into the power grid
In order to make the island’s power grid efficient and secure, the consumer side needs to be integrated into the Virtual Power Plant of the island. Large electricity consumers such as hotels or businesses play a decisive role, as their consumption processes are an indicator for the needed flexibility in order to maintain a stable grid. In case of potential power shortages, intelligent load management protects the island’s power grid by automatically aligning the electricity production and consumption processes.
For the compensation of voltage peaks and drops, inert power consumption processes are helpful assets of a virtual power plant: Refrigerating machines as well as air conditioning systems are able to briefly throttle or ramp up their compressors by means that do not have a direct effect on their primary objective. This turns ice storage tanks into cold power batteries, for example. Furthermore, processes such as vehicle loading stations, port facilities, pumping stations and other machinery whose maximum consumption can be shifted or throttled over time can be utilized in a similar fashion.
With the help of smart meters,even small electricity consumers such as households and small businesses can provide flexibility to the power grid.
Decentralized infrastructures enable economic development
Decentralized energy infrastructures can not only be built on islands, but also in remote regions far away from the power grid - for example in Africa or Asia, where large areas of land, lack of money and difficult topographical conditions make the construction of large power grids difficult and uneconomical. These are also opportunities for development aid because a well-operated and reliable energy supply is the foundation of any functioning economy and health system.
The development of telecommunication networks in Africa can serve as a model here: Mobile data connections via smartphones, provided by a decentralized wireless cell network, have enabled millions of people to access the Internet – broadband data exchange via fixed and installed network lines plays almost no role in Africa. Similarly, the establishment of a decentralized power grid can provide hands-on development aid and create a power supply that is independent of transporting fossil energy resources.
NEMOCS: The Platform for the Construction of Virtual Power Plants
Intelligent use of digital data for establishing your own power plant swarm
VPPs are very efficient and cost-effective because of their ability to collect and evaluate data for energy generation. The evaluation of feed-in profiles of the individual networked plants allows for the collection of continuous real-time data that can be used for future forecasts and the correction of feed-in schedules. This means that every single power plant contributes to making the network more efficient. In the long run, it means reduced need for fossil energy sources.
Islands are as diverse as renewable energy production
Since no island is similar to the next one, it is impossible to make general statements for VPPs on islands. It is necessary for every island to evaluate the individual possibilities. Meteorological analyses and forecasts also play a vital role. Are there any reliable figures on the wind situation or solar radiation on the island? How many days a year does the wind blow with how much force, how much solar radiation can be expected on average per day? How often do weather changes occur, how likely are cloudy or foggy areas in which seasons? Are there seasons or regular weather conditions with hardly any solar radiation and little wind, which could cause supply bottlenecks and which must be countered with additional generator capacity?
In addition to meteorological analyses, the potential of the island itself should also be explored: Is there volcanic activity on the island that could be used for geothermal energy? Is it possible to build a pumped-storage power plant on a mountain? Is there intensive agriculture that lends to the use of biogas plants? Can the waste produced on the island be processed in waste incineration plants and used to generate electricity and heat? These and many more questions and analyses constitute the renewable energy potential of an island to which the respective Virtual Power Plant can be tailored to.
Perspectives for energy system transformation on islands
Power generation on islands can be seen as windows into the future: While a complex of lobbyism, old-fashioned views on industrial power production, and security concerns regarding the stability of supply are slowing down renewable energies in large economies, renewables can show their strengths in smaller use-cases such as island installations. A well-planned concept can lead to a complete self-sufficient power supply just within years. The island of Samsø is a telling example that even exports energy to the mainland. But to be fair and honest: This prime example takes place in wealthy Denmark.
For the "average island", the economic conditions are usually not as good. Here, it is important to consider how the path to a turnaround towards renewable power production can be achieved by integrating the existing, conventional energy infrastructure. This saves both investment costs and CO2, as the existing diesel generator may only have to be put into operation a quarter of the time previously required. Similar to the automotive industry, hybrid solutions can also pave the way into a purely renewable future. With the strong price difference for solar panels and battery storage systems, this mixed solution offers opportunities even for financially weaker islands.
Worldwide, renewable energies score with low marginal costs, zero emissions and, in the long term, significantly lower electricity prices - not only on islands but also on the mainland. We should encourage and enable islands and remote regions beyond the world's electricity grids to be pioneers on the road to a future of 100 percent renewable energy.