As energy providers explore new ways to integrate renewable energy sources reliably into the electric grid, they can now look to wind plants to supply more than just power. New research demonstrates that wind plants also have capabilities to provide ancillary services to the electric grid using plant-level controls—critical functions that help grid operators maintain a reliable electricity system.
With support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO), research collaborators—including Avangrid Renewables, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), General Electric, and DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—conducted a series of tests in late 2019 at Avangrid Renewables’ Tule Wind Farm near San Diego. The researchers demonstrated that large, utility-scale wind power plants can provide essential grid services that ensure the smooth and continuous flow of electricity on the power grid.
The big takeaway? Wind resources can be used to actively manage the electric grid with higher levels of renewable generation.
“Wind can be another way to inject stability into the grid from renewable sources and to create commercial paths for incorporating increasing amounts of renewables onto the grid,” said Clyde Loutan, a renewable energy adviser and CAISO’s team lead on the demonstration. “It’s critical to prove that renewable resources can offer diverse services to electrical grids so power plants and markets can be designed to encourage and incentivize these services, allowing more clean resources to be embraced by the system.”
A report on the demonstration concluded that many modern wind power plants have the requisite controls in place to supply a full suite of grid reliability services. These include frequency support, ramping and balance, and voltage control, to name a few. The report also found that a commercial wind plant would only need to make simple changes to its operations to supply grid services currently provided by conventional sources, such as natural gas plants.
“The difference in response time with wind power compared to conventional energy generation technologies mirrors the differences between an electric sports car and a gas-powered vehicle,” said Vahan Gevorgian, a chief electrical engineer with NREL who also served as a lead for the project. “The electric cars can accelerate much faster than their conventional cousins.”
Smart inverter controls used in conjunction with renewable energy technologies like wind, solar, and energy storage can quickly detect frequency deviations (changes in electricity usage and generation) and respond to these system imbalances. Tapping into electronic-based resources like wind for “fast frequency response” allows these inverter-based resources to increase the net supply of energy available to the grid much quicker and with response times much faster than a traditional mechanical response. In this way, the fast frequency response reduces the need for inertia on the electric grid, which can improve grid reliability and resiliency.
Results from the Avangrid Renewables study demonstrate that wind resources have the necessary capabilities to respond to the needs of the electric grid. These findings, paired with similar findings for solar power, will inform future research that explores how active power control capabilities for inverter-connected plants that combine wind, photovoltaic solar, and energy storage technologies could further accelerate the movement towards the electric grid of the future.