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Virtual Power Plants Could Tame Coming Grid Chaos


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Power lines with windmill

Getting renewable energy sources to plug into existing infrastructure is not straightforward.

Eddie Mulholland/Rex Features

Fears over energy security and climate change have led to record investment in renewable energy. But a major problem threatens to stall progress towards a more sustainable future: national electricity grids are far from ready to cope with the unreliable output from the new technologies.

A solution might be at hand, though, and would not involve radical changes to the existing infrastructure. Treating groups of dispersed power sources, such as solar and wind generators, as a single entity could solve the problem, creating the virtual equivalent of a single large power station.

"[The power companies' existing] philosophy is that they're going to run the grids as if these new renewable sources did nothing to help – a 'fit and forget' strategy," says Goran Strbac at Imperial College London, UK.

That's because grids must always match the region's energy requirements, second by second, and renewable sources go through extreme fluctuations as the sun goes in, night falls, or the wind drops, says Peter Lang, at EDF Energy Networks, the Distribution Network Operator for London, East and South East of England.

From New Scientist
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