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Avoiding National Grid Power Cuts Through a New “Smart” System

July 12, 2020 by Kristijan Nelkovski

Researchers from the University of Birmingham are in the process of patenting a smart wind turbine system for power grid electricity management.

The team from the University of Birmingham Enterprise department has been working on a system that allows for the control, storage, and regulation of energy from wind turbines that reduces the risks of power cuts while supporting the expansion of renewable wind energy worldwide.


Obstacles in Managing Frequency Dips and Power Outages 

Regulation of the supply of electricity poses a challenge due to the fluctuations in energy demand and wind. Outages of electricity generation occur when one part of the grid malfunctions causing a frequency dip and a full electricity outage in one part of the grid.

These outages can be managed by pushing out more electricity in the affected area. Still, as wind energy becomes increasingly integrated into UK power systems and across Europe—control and regulation of the system become less manageable, and frequency dips and outages have become more frequent problematic.

One such power outage occurred on the ninth of August in 2019 when two unrelated and unexpected power losses occurred, causing massive outages throughout England and Wales for about forty minutes. The reason these malfunctions happened were due to lightning strikes in Little Barford and Hornsea. This incident shut down rail systems and traffic lights, and it also left thousands of homes with no electricity. 

Even though the problem was solved forty minutes later, and power was restored, the rail system was experiencing issues over the whole weekend. Using a wind turbine frequency control system like the proposed project from the University of Birmingham, this power outage could have been avoided. 


Power station.

A power station located in the countryside. 


A Smart System That Uses Wind Turbines for Power Grid Control

The system created by the Birmingham Enterprise researchers is designed to combat power outage problems by using the variable speed of the rotors of individual wind turbines for precise regulation of the supply that is being sent into the grid.

By doing so, when the demand is high (when a frequency dip occurs, for example), already stored kinetic energy from the turbines can intelligently be sent into the grid, keeping it stable and avoiding power outs.

Professor Xiao-Ping Zhang, director of Smart Grid at the Birmingham Energy Institute and lead researcher of the system, noted that wind energy is planned to contribute half of the UK's electricity by 2030 and that a smart control system is necessary for the control of frequency dips in the power grid.

He notes that as the UK increases its reliance on wind power within the next decade, it is vital to provide and maintain an effective system for regulating the power grid. Professor Zhang also adds that this project offers a revolutionary mechanism because it uses the existing wind turbine infrastructure with no additional devices and investments to stabilize it. 


What The System Means for the Future of Europe's Wind Power Grid

The Birmingham research team's mechanism in-development enables a scheme for fast frequency control of wind turbine systems under varying wind speeds, levels of wind power, and system conditions that can be incorporated into the current power grid in a non-intrusive way while carrying no significant hardware change costs.

Their research and approach towards the problem have been validated by using an industry-standard power grid simulation. The team is currently looking into their system's commercial viability and are exploring partnership options with other companies.

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