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Finding the ‘Best Paths’ to renewable energy integration

Best Paths is the largest energy research project financed by the European Commission in the last decade. Its aim is to help to overcome the challenges of integrating renewable energies into Europe’s energy mix.

The project will end in September 2018. So far it looks likely to meet all its objectives on developing and testing high-capacity grid technologies needed for Europe’s long-term energy goals.

Best Paths

Best Paths unites 39 expert partners around five large-scale demonstrations that aim to:

-à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚  Deliver solutions to allow for transition to High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) grids;

-à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚  Upgrade and repower existing Alternating Current (AC) and Direct Current (DC) parts of the network; and

-à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚ à‚  Integrate superconducting high power DC links within an AC meshed network.

We spoke to Project Coordinator Vicente Gonzalez for an update.

PEI: Firstly, how is the project going? Will the project conclude in easier management of distributed and renewable energy on the grid?

VG: “Business as usual” for electricity infrastructures will not be enough to meet the political ambitions of integrating more renewables in the future. Grids have to be fit for transmitting big quantities of electricity from remote places and overcoming the unsteadiness.”

The novel technologies developed in the project help this integration in several ways.

Firstly, with the increase of renewable energies, Direct Current has become a prominent technology because it is more efficient and reliable for transmitting power coming from remote renewable energy sources, and especially from offshore wind farms. So the project developed an innovative set of models and a simulation toolbox that can be used to test the integration of wind power with HVDC grids. This will help to de-risk the connection of large offshore wind farms to onshore electricity grid and to transmit large amounts of electricity with minimal losses.

Secondly, Best Paths engineered a full range of innovations for High Voltage Direct Current components (land and submarine cables, sea electrodes, but also components for converter stations and overhead lines) for the rehabilitation of the HVDC connection between the island of Sardinia, the French island of Corsica and continental Italy (called SACOI). These components can be applied in rehabilitating other existing interconnections as much as in newly built ones. This will substantially contribute to improve the capacity and the flexibility of European electricity infrastructures, which is key for the energy transition.

Thirdly, Best Paths technologies considerably contribute to improve and repower existing power lines, by overcoming the current lack of long-lasting experience with new conductor technologies among European Transmission System Operators. This is going to affect the lives of millions of energy consumers in Europe, because the improved management of electricity lines will ensure the correct supply of electricity, decrease the risk of blackouts, reduce the visual impact of towers and enable the integration of more renewables.

Finally, the project is developing a novel superconducting direct current cable using Magnesium Diboride wires that will enable the transmission of up to 3.2 several gigawatts. This could be a major advancement to increase the power capacity of the electricity network without different energy sources having to compete.”

PEI: Secondly, the IEA progress report last week showed that decentralized energy technologies were way behind in terms of necessary contribution to the Paris agreement targets ” does the project potentially have ways of improving that contribution?

VG: Best Paths focuses mainly on high-voltage transmission network. Decentralised energy technologies are usually associated with self-consumption and the “prosumer” concept, both connected to the low-voltage network and therefore out of the scope of the project.

Nevertheless, if we also consider large wind or photovoltaic generation facilities, located far from existing grid and consumption areas, as decentralised generation, it is clear they need the transmission grid to reach the final customer. In this case a more powerful transmission grid, resulting from implementing Best Paths validated solutions, will play an outstanding role to maximise the use of the primary resource, avoiding energy spills due to lack of transmission capacity to move the energy from decentralised wind farms and PV plants to feed the electricity demand in other regions of Europe.

PEI: Finally, what sort of obstacles are preventing decentralized energy from performing to potential so far and does the project’s management believe the climate target can be met without improvement in this sector?

VG: Starting from the second part of this question we are convinced that achieving climate targets is demanding all kind of possible improvements in the energy sector and for sure decentralised generation (including both concepts mentioned above) has a role to play.

There are several barriers preventing a faster development low voltage decentralised energy resources.

One issue is the lack of a common regulatory framework about the rights and duties of the “prosumer” actor. This creates an uncertainty that prevents people from affording relatively large investment.

The second one is the technology and its cost. There is a number of possible technological solutions but it is still unclear which of them will become a market reference in the coming years. Having in mind the recovery period for these solutions is quite long, most people remain reluctant to be the “first movers”.

From the side of the utilities, they still need to set up a framework of trust with these new actors (“the prosumers”) since they will participate in providing some of the key system services for security of supply.

And last but not least, people must be aware that all of us are major players in the energy transition process, and it is not enough to demand a change of model to governments and large corporations. It is necessary that each of us takes an active role in the new energy scenario and takes up the global objectives of society in our daily behaviour, thinking beyond a mere study of economic profitability in our decisions.

Megatrends: Decarbonization, Decentralization and Digitalizationà‚ in the energy sector is a key pillar of Electrify Europe conference and exhibition in Vienna next month.à‚ For more details click here.