Leonardo Botti suggests how to ensure solar success in emerging markets.
In its World Energy Outlook at the end of 2020, the International Energy Agency said solar PV, driven by continued cost reductions, will become the main driver of renewables growth, setting new records for deployment in each year from 2022 until 2040.
IEA executive director Fatih Birol stated that he saw “solar becoming the new king of the world’s electricity markets”, and it’s easy to see why – the IEA also reported that installed global solar PV capacity had grown 18-fold between 2010 and 2020.
With solar set to become a vital part of the generation mix for governments to meet renewable energy and carbon emissions targets, the growth potential is truly global.
While ‘established’ solar regions such as Europe and North America will continue to lead in terms of technologies, Asia is also a leading force, with countries such as Singapore and South Korea experiencing significant growth.
That said, the drivers for growth are different across established and emerging markets. In established markets, the primary focus is how to use the energy that is generated in the most efficient way possible.
In contrast, in emerging markets, the demand for power is much greater. According to BloombergNEF’s 2020 ‘Climatescope’ report, emerging markets’ annual generation has spiked 54% over the past decade, while electricity production in developed countries remained nearly flat.
This need for additional energy infrastructure to power economic growth means that renewable sources such as solar are becoming more popular.
As well as providing clean energy, solar also provides greater self-sufficiency, particularly for those countries relying on imports of either power – for example fossil fuels – or components. Any solution that maximises local resources is welcome, and solar is often installed to supplement other renewable sources.
For example, Nepal is predominantly dependent on hydropower for its electricity generation and aims to achieve 400MW of renewable energy by 2022.
However, the country also needs an additional 200MW of energy to become selfreliant during the dry season, when its power generation drops due to fall in water levels in the rivers.
In addition, certain areas, including the Province 2 area, cannot develop hydropower projects, but do have abundant sun energy that could be utilised. As such, a number of solar-powered projects are in the pipeline to help bridge the power gap when hydropower is not possible.
Nepal’s largest private solar project was recently commissioned in the Dhalbekar region. This milestone 10MW project will supply renewable power to well-known tourist areas including Janakpuri, as well as help to reduce power cuts thanks to increased stability of supply.
Similarly, in Turkey, the desire for more locally-generated energy is also a key factor in the growth of solar. With Turkey being reliant on imports of natural gas and oil, renewable energy has seen strong growth to increase both stability and security of supply as well as meet carbon reduction targets.
This was the case with a project at the 500MW Aşağıkaleköy hydroelectric plant in southeast Turkey.
Hydropower is one of the primary sources of renewable energy in Turkey; however, during times of drought, generation from hydropower is reduced. Therefore, solar is seen as an important stabiliser for hydropower plants, providing increased capacity during times of low output as it can be easily installed adjacent to hydropower plants to ensure uninterrupted supply.
A major 80MW hybrid solar power plant was commissioned to be located alongside the Aşağıkaleköy plant and this project – the first and largest of its kind in Turkey – will provide a total of 127GWh of clean energy per year to Turkey’s national grid and supply renewable energy to approximately one million people.
However, with growth come challenges. For example, increasing the amount of power generated creates a delicate balancing act – how to satisfy the demand for energy without compromising grid capacity.
For example, progress in Jordan stalled in January 2019 when the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources suspended approvals for large-scale electricity projects, citing the need to conduct studies to assess grid capacity.
At the time, a ministry official acknowledged that the grid had experienced ‘technical challenges’ over its capacity to cope with the increased amount of power being generated.
Similarly, network operators across both established and emerging countries – including Thailand, Spain, Germany, the Americas, South Africa and Australia – are setting export power limits to help manage grid stability without compromising on the deployment of renewable technologies like solar.
How can these potential issues be managed to ensure solar is used to its full potential?
Export limitation – which is mandatory in several countries – means that any solar plant needs to have an active power control to meet the requirements set by network operators and ensure stability of the local grid.
For example, in Australia, the electricity system consists of several independent synchronous zones, the largest of which – the North-South path, which runs along the east coast – is extremely long with a very narrow transverse.
As such, it is unable to provide the same level of contingency reserves as the meshed systems found in most of Europe and the US. Therefore, the Australian grid code requires mandatory export limitation to maintain the stability of the grid.
In countries with mandatory grid codes, an export limitation controller is required to avoid the power output exceeding the export limit. The controller works by reacting to load fluctuations to keep the power below the limit.
Grid simulation studies
In some countries – such as Jordan, which faced issues when it came to accommodating large-scale solar projects – having an accurate grid simulation study is now vital to the commissioning of a project.
Grid simulation modelling creates a digital representation of the inverter – a ’digital twin’ – which enables different scenarios including faults, setpoints and operating conditions to be created virtually without the need for laboratory testing, power sources and all other ‘real life’ equipment, which can be cost-prohibitive to carry out.
This allows for a study of plant behavior during faults, voltage dips and frequency disturbances.
In real life, it would be impossible to test how a plant will respond to an incident such as a grid fault, as this could result in significant damage to not only the inverter, but also the plant as a whole. Thus grid simulation studies are a crucial part of the project planning phase.
A bright solar future
Without doubt, the solar PV industry is one of the most exciting sectors to be working in at the moment.
Falling costs and increasing government incentives and subsidies across several regions mean that demand for solar power – across all market segments, from utilityscale through to commercial & industrial and residential – is growing in both established and emerging markets.
However, what is clear is that it is vital to have local knowledge of these markets – and any possible grid code or power limitations – to ensure the full potential of solar is realised.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leonardo Botti is managing director of Commercial and Industrial Business at Italy-headquartered solar inverter company FIMER.