Thursday, 22 November 2012

Far-flung Faroes getting smart with grid

Dong Energy, Denmark's state-owned electricity company, is planning tests on one of the world's first virtual power plants (VPP) on the wind-swept Faroe Islands, according to Business Green. The test will involve simulating how Dong Energy's smart grid technology, dubbed PowerHub, will fare when the wind, powering the islands wind turbines, decides to take a breather. 

The Faroe Islands are ramping up wind's share of electricity generation to 25% by 2014.

Keeping a grid alive with electricity is a delicate balancing act. If the grid isn't to experience black-out inducing changes in frequency, supply must be matched to changes in demand. When electricity supply came from predictable sources, like fossil-fuel power plants, that was tricky, but do-able.

Now, however, the world needs to switch to renewables big-time, to cut climate-shocking greenhouse gas emissions. And some of these, like wind and solar power, are inherently variable. So that balancing act has gotten a lot more tricky. Hence the need for the greater smarts in grid that PowerHub represents.

The technology works by integrating 'fast frequency demand response' into the grid, requesting reduced demand from customers signed up to the scheme,when supply dips. The companies get paid to be part of that demand  buffer, and to be more flexible in their use of electricity.

The Faroe Islands is an important, if challenging, location to get wind energy integration right, lying as it does in a storm-tossed wind resource hotspot. As Anders Birke, from Dong Energy, told Business Green, "with its harsh weather conditions, the Faroe Islands is one of the most difficult places to install wind turbines and it's totally isolated." 

"So if we can install the system here where it's hardest, we're optimistic that we can do it elsewhere."

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Hawaii going underground for greener energy

Apart from acres of sunshine, lashings of wave power, and sail-fulls of wind, there's another resource that many a small island has plenty of - the heat to be harvested from the simmering volcanoes that have built them up from the ocean floor. Hawaii is a great case in point, and long ago made tentative steps into bring geothermal onto the grid.

Those baby steps may be about widen considerably, as geothermal goes through a growth spurt on the islands. Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO), the regulated utility for the actual island of Hawaii (or Big Island as locals call it) is publishing plans to expand geothermal to cover 88 MW of the island's generation. That's enough for volcano-power to meet half of Hawaii island's peak demand.

But getting the islanders on board is being seen as critical, and so HELCO is opening up its Request For Proposals to the public for comment. Previous plans for tapping geothermal heat have foundered when they have trampled on the sensitivities of those Hawaiians who worship Tutu Pele - the volcano goddess. “We are working hard to have it done right, respecting the environment and the culture,” Lt Gov Brian Schatz told the  Honolulu Star Advertiser recently.

HELCO claims that the RFP, which should be finalized in January 2012, will be guided by comments from both prospective developers, and the public, alike. With oil-fired generators making Hawaii the island with the highest electricity rates in the state (which are also the highest in the US) the need to turn off the oil-burners is more than evident.

"This is incredibly important for ratepayers on the Big Island,” Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz said. “This will help stabilize prices. What people on the Big Island need is clean, affordable energy. And that’s the purpose of this RFP.”

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Solar window dressing in Barbados?

Oil is big deal on island nations such as Barbados. With limited access to local fossil fuels, islands like these have had to rely on imported petroleum products to fire the power stations that keep the lights on. That was fine, while oil was cheap. But with the world in its fifth year of near $100/bbl oil prices, the high cost of petroleum-fueled electricity is starting to become apparent.

Last year Barbados spent $340m on oil imports, enough to act as a serious economic drag. That's prompted some sensible-sounding words from Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. "This expenditure has undermined our competitiveness and distorted electricity rates to an unprecedented extent.  This situation has become the greatest challenge of our time and we cannot continue business as usual,” he told Caribbean360.

That will mean a greater emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation. Nineteen government buildings are to be kitted out with solar PV on their  roofs (including 9 schools). And hurricane shelters will be similarly-equipped, allowing them to be a source of power when it's needed the most. The island also has big potential energy resources in ocean heat, wind, wave and biomass (from sugar-cane waste).

But oil is still to loom large in Barbados' energy mix, if the PM has his way.

"We must be cognisant of the reality that fossil fuels will be with us for some time. That is why we are seeking to develop Barbados’ offshore petroleum sector.." said Stuart. Barbados has only limited onshore production, but the Caribbean Sea could well be hiding much more. High oil prices may be pricking Barbados towards a clean energy solution, but the financial lure of the black-stuff remains strong.

If Barbados is to avoid charges of green window dressing, it needs to look to beyond the  murky sea-bed, and to fully tap into the country's naturally renewable energy bounty.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

King Island crowns first stage of integrated clean energy program

Each strand of the renewable energy solution may be a little ragged, but weave them together, and you  have a rope fit for climbing out of the pit of fossil fuel dependency. That's what Hydro Tasmania is looking to achieve with its King Island Renewable Energy Project (KREIP), which blends sun, wind, biodiesel and storage to an intelligent grid, making a coherent clean energy whole.
This small island, halfway between Australia and Tasmania, may be home to only 2,000 people, but its small size makes it an ideal testbed for developing real-world clean energy solutions. The goal of KREIP is to get 65% of energy demand satisfied by solar PV and a new wind farm. 

But because the wind doesn't always blow, and the sun doesn't always shine, the Project is putting in place Australia's largest battery bank.That will store excess energy for use when the elements are less productive. And the innovation doesn't stop there. A dynamic demand-response system aims to shave off those troublesome peaks of demand.

It may see King Island completely freed from burning oil some of the time. Already fuel use has been cut by nearly half. But more than that, King Islanders are pointing the way to our energy future. Hydro Tasmania's chief told Energy Matters: "this is the first remote system on this scale capable of supplying the energy needs of an entire community primarily through wind and solar energy."