Episode 11

The Role of Renewable Grids

The Energy Transition series is comprised of one hour panel sessions involving executives and industry experts dedicated to improving awareness on various elements of the energy transition, as well as identifying investment opportunities for corporate and institutional investors.

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By John Musk, Shelby Tucker and Guest speakers
Published January 11, 2022 | 3 min watch
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Key Points

  • How can electricity grids adapt to become more dynamic as we move to increased renewables penetration as part of the energy transition?
  • How can the hurdles for the mass adoption of sustainable energy be overcome?
  • What role will Batteries play in solving the intermittency challenge of renewables

How can electricity grids adapt to become more dynamic as we move to increased renewables penetration as part of the energy transition? This was the central question of a session moderated by John Musk, Managing Director, Utilities Equity Research at RBC Capital Markets, and Shelby Tucker, Head of the Power and Utility Research Team at RBC. Their panelists included: Liam Ryan, Chief Innovation and Planning Officer at EirGrid, owner and operator of Ireland’s high voltage transmission network; Tim Mortlock, chief operating officer at SMS PLC; and Felix Chow-Kambitsch, Head of Commissioned Projects, Western Europe at Aurora Energy Research.


Renewables: a range of challenges

Ireland, which has one of the highest renewable penetration rates already in the world, is a good illustration of how hurdles for the mass adoption of sustainable energy can be overcome. Last year, 43% of its electricity came from renewable sources, mainly non-cell synchronous types of generation like solar and wind, despite the very limited interconnection with the rest of Europe and a number of technical challenges around how the system could be operated with very little inertia, notes Liam Ryan. “We had to look at new services and new tools for a better view of the system in real time and forecasting,” he says. “Another important element is the social acceptance of infrastructure.”

The key role of smart meters: balancing generation and demand

The role of smart meters is also key to improve the grid, argues Tim Mortlock. “They can provide real time energy consumption and price information on home devices. That empowers consumers by providing immediate visibility over their energy usage and the cost of that usage. And when we install smart meters, we actually provide energy efficiency, advice to people on how to benefit from that data in terms of their own behavior within the home,” he says. Smart meters enable a much more distributed energy system locally, for both generation and storage, and encourage and rewards consumer behavior to shift demand away from the times of greatest constraint. In the future, this will include ‘electric vehicles to grid.’

Grid batteries are critical

Batteries also have a key role to play solve the intermittency challenge of renewables. “At the moment, lithium ion is the main battery of choice,” notes Felix Chow-Kambitsch. However, alternatives technologies with longer duration or less degradations exist. The variations on lithium ion are just incremental improvements, such as vanadium flow technology. A more promising area could be hydrogen, or carbon capture and storage, he thinks. “You need that zero carbon or low carbon solution for the two or three week gap in wind production.”

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