Q&A: managing renewable energy in India with Smarter Grid Solutions

Yoana Cholteeva 18 November 2020 (Last Updated November 18th, 2020 10:29)

Glasgow-based clean energy technology company Smarter Grid Solutions and energy consultant Enzen have recently been awarded India’s first active network management contract by The Tamil Nadu Transmission Corporation electricity operator (TANTRANSCO).

Q&A: managing renewable energy in India with Smarter Grid Solutions
Smarter Grid Solutions’ executive director Graham Ault. Source: Graham Ault

Glasgow-based clean energy technology company Smarter Grid Solutions and energy consultant Enzen have recently been awarded India’s first active network management contract by The Tamil Nadu Transmission Corporation electricity operator (TANTRANSCO).

This first of its kind initiative will use Smarter Grid Solutions’ ANM products to autonomously manage existing and new renewables in India to increase overall grid stability.

It will also help contribute towards the country’s ambitious renewable goals to produce 40% of its energy mix from green energy sources by 2030.

We spoke with Smarter Grid Solutions’ Executive Director Graham Ault about how this project can help lower costs of grid upgrades and support other elements of the clean energy transition.

Yoana Cholteeva (YC): Could you tell me a bit more about the active network management contract Smarter Grid Solutions and Enzen have recently secured?

Graham Ault (GA): Just to rewind back to what Smarter Solutions does, we provide software that monitors and manages clean and distributed energy in power grids and new energy markets. As part of our expansion internationally, we started working with Enzen in India, and they sought our expertise while working with TANTRANSCO.

Then we took on the idea of managing the increasing number of renewable generators connected to their grid and managing those using our software. The project will implement our active network management or distributed energy resource management software to monitor transmission lines. And when conditions dictate, it will automatically calculate and adjust renewable generation to allow operation of the grids with more renewable energy nearer to the grids’ limits.

So, this project will help manage a few hundred megawatts of renewable generators connected to the Tamil Nadu area.

YC: How should renewables be better managed to increase overall grid stability?

GA: The idea is simply that the key congestion points or potential congestion points of grids are measured, so you put some monitoring equipment there. When these identify that the voltages or the power for the current gets to a particular level, then you can issue setpoint turn down instructions to relevant generators. Let’s say, there’s a few hundred megawatts of electricity flowing in an extra high voltage transmission corridor or transmission circuits. If the wind power output is continuing to increase, you can then issue an instruction to one or more wind farms to limit the output to a certain level and keep the grid within its limits.

It’s relatively straightforward for monitoring to send data back to a central location where the computation is done to assess the current grid state, and if there is any required action to turn down the renewable generators. Then, there’s also some distributed control logic at each wind farm. So, if there is a loss of communication then an instruction to operate at a safe level is given over that local interface to each wind farm’s control system, and that provides an additional layer of security.

YC: Could you tell me a bit more about the tools used as part of this joint project – ANM Strata and ANM Element, both developed in the UK?

GA: Yes, these are our two smart grid management products. The distributed part that I described earlier is ANM Element, the piece of software that is installed at all points measured in the grid or all points where generators or other sorts of clean energy assets are connected, these could be batteries or aggregations of electric vehicle charging. Element implements the set points and schedules for the operation, it monitors the communication links and then takes any action required to keep everything safe and secure.

ANM Strata is installed to implement that control across utility grids and gathers data on the state of the grid and the operation of renewable generators or other assets. It could also take a forecast view of the weather, the renewable generation or of what the grid loading is likely to be and compute settings and operating schedules from that.

ANM Strata is pretty sophisticated, it can integrate to a lot of different systems, including utility control systems, it makes sure it has the data it needs to calculate and issue those instructions to renewables. It follows the idea of traffic lights, you monitor the flow of traffic, in this case, energy traffic with a clever system, and then you issue instructions, changing this dynamic speed limit to control the flow or energy and signal to customers how they need to operate. That’s effectively what our products do in an electricity grid, so you make better use of the grid infrastructure.

YC: What specific considerations did you have to keep in mind while developing the project?

GA: One of the two main things that we spend most time on with our customers is, first of all, integration, making sure the new wiring between the different systems, the measurements, the flows of data in and out, and the instructions to renewables are done very securely. They must be well tested. We need to make sure data flows to the right places at the right time. So that integration effort is something that we work very closely on to make sure we meet all standards and make sure everything is in good shape.

Secondly, another challenge is to make sure that the specific utility business model or regulatory requirements, or the market rules are considered as well – who gets paid for doing what or if there’s more than one renewable generator, which generator would you ask to curtail output or do they share that responsibility? Do they get compensated? All those markets and regulatory rules have to be considered as that allows us to configure our system.

For these smart grid solutions, people often use phrases like Internet of Energy. In some ways, there’s truth to that, because what we’re looking for is to create a seamless exchange of information and system operation for the grid operator and the renewable developer. Like the internet, smart our systems work with complex routing of instructions, protocols, and data flows, with all of that hidden from the users.

YC: What is the impact of this development on India’s energy potential?

GA: We are already deploying these solutions in the UK and the US and have currently got a project rolling out the same type of solution in Germany. These all have the potential to add clean energy to the energy system quicker and cheaper and provide opportunities for the owners and operators of these new clean energy assets to gain financial benefits, and therefore they will want to deploy the systems quicker.

That’s our hope in India as well. Even though it will be a few hundred megawatts of renewable generation that connects to the project initially, this has the potential to bring a quicker, cheaper transition to clean energy in India and this is a really big goal for the country.