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Smart System Could Reduce Power Cuts and Increase Wind Energy Use

According to scientists from the University of Birmingham, a “smart” system that regulates the storage and release of energy from wind turbines will decrease the risk of power cuts and promote the increased use of wind energy globally.

Image Credit: University of Birmingham

The system makes use of the rotor’s unstable speed in wind turbine systems to manage the supply of power to the grid more carefully. This implies that when the demand for electricity is high, the kinetic energy stored in the turbines can be utilized smartly to maintain the grid stable. The University of Birmingham Enterprise has applied for a patent to safeguard the system.

It is a continuous challenge to manage electricity supply to keep pace with the demand. An unexpected outage of power generation, for example, due to damage of a generator, could result in a “frequency dip,” which can cause power cuts. Currently, huge power stations in the United Kingdom handle such dips by forcing out more electricity.

But when more wind turbines are incorporated into the system, it turns out to be more complex to balance between the supply and demand, as well as maintain the system stable. This is because frequency dips in the national power grid take place more rapidly and critically compared to earlier when wind generation was an important element of electricity generation.

By 2030 wind is expected to provide half the UK’s power, so it’s important that we can use the wind farms provide a vital safety mechanism of controlling frequency dips of UK’s national power grid.

Xiao-Ping Zhang, Study Lead Researcher and Professor, Director of Smart Grid, Birmingham Energy Institute, University of Birmingham

Zhang continued, “Our proposed frequency control system for wind turbines could revolutionize the UK’s power grid’s frequency control and, importantly, uses our existing infrastructure of wind turbines and it will not need additional devices and investments.”

In August 2019, a severe power cut resulted in blackouts throughout Wales, the Midlands, North East, North West, South East, and South West of England. This incident occurred due to two unanticipated power losses at the same time at Hornsea and Little Barford caused by lightning strikes.

Thousands of homes went out of power, people were deserted on trains, and traffic lights stopped functioning. Although power supply resumed after 40 minutes, issues on the rail network existed over the weekend.

In such circumstances, frequency control response services from wind turbines, if available through the newly suggested method, would have safeguarded the national grid system from the power cut.

As the UK increases its reliance on wind power, it will become even more important to find effective ways to use the turbine systems to provide this service and maintain effective regulation of the grid. Current methods of using wind turbines to regulate electricity struggle to provide consistent support because of variable wind speeds and other system conditions.

Xiao-Ping Zhang, Study Lead Researcher and Professor, Director of Smart Grid, Birmingham Energy Institute, University of Birmingham

The technique put forward by the researchers at the University of Birmingham exploits the potential of wind turbines to function at varying speeds to offer the flexibility needed to react to fluctuations in supply and demand. The findings of the study were published in the IEEE Open Access Journal of Power and Energy.

The research team already applied the method to an industry-standard power grid simulator and is trying to find industrial partners to explore commercial possibilities for the technology.

Journal Reference:

Zhao, X., et al. (2020) Fast Frequency Support from Wind Turbine Systems by Arresting Frequency Nadir Close to Settling Frequency. IEEE Open Access Journal of Power and Energy.

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