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Conceptualising and Defining “Control” in modern energy systems

February 2, 2022 2 minutes read

In an era of distributed generation and flexible loads, what is control?

If we define “control” as being in charge of the planning and development of the system, then we’ve already lost it.

If we define “control” as making consumers and consumer installations do what the market or network wants them to do, then we’ve already lost it.

If we define “control” as bending consumer behaviours to the will of policy-makers and interest groups, then we’ve already lost it.

But if we define “control” as; providing sufficient transparency, data and incentive to produce behaviours that compensate for the impact of consumer preference and consumer performance, then maybe we're on to something...

The major insight of the past 12 years of operating in some of the most remote and power-poor areas of the world and then bringing those lessons into mature energy system undergoing significant transition, is that innovation in planning, in purchasing decisions, in operations and in control – is being driven from the edges. Not from the centre.

Edge-consumers, edge-technologies, edge-entrepreneurialism are driving innovation.

Edge-consumers, edge-technologies, edge-entrepreneurialism are driving innovation.

In an energy system under transition, the edge isn’t just at remote fringes of rural distribution networks, it’s behind meters at every point of the grid.

The challenges the energy system is facing from the charge towards decarbonisation, distribution and digitisation are all manifesting from changes at the edges.

Critically, the answers to these challenges will be found, not in strict market control measures and imposed network controls but at the edges where solid inverters and smart control capacity provides virtual synchronised generation and synthetic inertia as well as fast, algorithmic, autonomous operation.

Control is now the consumers’ prerogative.

Some of the challenges of integrating Microgrid solutions into an existing power system are;

  • Bidirectional power flows;
  • Stability issues;
  • Low inertia;
  • Modelling;
  • Uncertainty; and
  • Historical cognitive biases

These challenges have often caused frictions between those who operate and run centralised electricity networks and those who wish to build and operate decentralised energy systems.

Energy innovation involves leveraging off the energy assets we have, while also incentivising and harnessing the rapid transition into clean and decentralised energy. Thus, energy system control now requires greater understanding, investment and research and development. Currently, effort is being put into the design of control systems that ensure reliable, robust, and economical operation of microgrids in either grid-connected or stand-alone mode (Olivares, et al., 2014).

But enough about the theory; what does “control” mean in operation?

Control can be as simple as a market signal; teaching a power station to export energy when the price is right and store it when the price is too low for economic dispatch.

It could be reliability backup; operating energy storage or distributed generation as bumpless alternatives to supply from long radial networks.

Or it could be customer-centric control; giving the consumer the ability to determine how their preferences for cost, carbon and comfort translate into network and market interaction.

Three examples of control from our Balance Projects;

Mobilong 5MW Solar Farm: Market Driven Control (UPS)

Perenjor Battery Energy Storage in the Australian Outback: Reliability Driven Control

Euston Club Energy Park Hybrid Microgrid for Club House: Customer Centric Driven Control

Conceptualising and Defining “Control” in modern energy systems