Magazine

Electrical power engineering

trends in 2019

Solar and wind power stay strong – boosted by battery-equipped hybrid solutions. Renewable energies will continue their strong growth at a global level this year. No major changes are anticipated; solar and wind power will continue to dominate the market. However, as the share of weather-dependent distributed systems increases, systems are required to be more flexible. With this trend, energy storage supported hybrid systems will emerge as the next major trend in the sector.

TEXT Maria Antila & Arnon | PHOTO Mika Kanerva, Tampere UNI

“The growth of renewable energies is easy to see in the investments being made in the electrical power system. In 2019, the emphasis on renewables will increase further,” says Seppo Valkealahti, Professor in Electrical Energy Engineering at Tampere University.

“Of all investments in the electrical power system, renewables will probably amount to over 50%. The investment pot of renewables in the entire global market is divided roughly in half between solar power and wind power. Approximately 40% of other investments goes to transmission and distribution networks, and only 10–15% to nuclear and fossil power. And even those are mostly replacement investments,” Valkealahti summarises.

Although the shift from fossil energy sources to renewable ones is constantly accelerating, it remains gradual. Once all new investments will be in renewable energies, fossil power plants will gradually be phased out as they come to the end of their service life. It will take roughly another 30 years to fully replace the whole system.

More flexibility through hybrid solutions

With the growth of weather-dependent distributed generation, such as solar and wind power, the flexibility of the system must also be increased. Smart solutions are needed between consumption and generation to help manage the system and improve its capability to react to rapid weather-related changes in power generation.

The stability and predictability of generation can be guaranteed with hybrid solutions consisting of one or more renewable energies linked to an energy storage system. Energy storage facilitates energy recovery and ensures the quality of the electricity generated.

“Energy storage systems, mainly battery storage systems, linked to solar and wind power will become more common. Battery technology will continue to become cheaper at a relatively faster rate than solar power. In the near future, we will also see economically viable solutions for the electrical power system,” says Valkealahti.

Microgrids instead of national infrastructure

It is forecast that hybrid solutions will also be utilised by microgrids – small, independent grids separate from the electrical power system – which will grow more common in the future. In many places, solar power alone, for example, will not suffice. Batteries are needed in order to have power through the night too.

According to Valkealahti, energy storage supplemented microgrids may be so cost-effective as to make the construction of national electricity transmission networks unnecessary in many places.

“In the future, once the price of solar power falls significantly below all other forms of energy, it may no longer be economically viable to transmit power through networks. Indeed, special microgrids will become more common in sunny nations, where people will charge batteries instead of taking power from the national grid. This saves transmission costs and eliminates the need to build power lines. Especially in developing countries, which do not yet have the kind of established infrastructure that we have in Finland, this type of development is on the horizon,” says Valkealahti.

Similar solutions are also possible for companies, in mining operations for example.

“When a mine is situated in a remote location, it may be more sensible to build your own renewable energy power plant, with battery storage as a buffer.”

Education developed based on the needs of business

With the growth of renewable energies, the competence profile of the workforce must also change. Solar and wind power plants generate DC power, which must be converted to AC power with power electronics. The growing complexity and decentralised generation of the electrical power system increase the importance of automation and ICT.

“The role of power electronics will grow in power system applications, and it is also a major trend in education and training. We have strived to promote instruction in this subject, and the number of students studying power electronics has increased over the past few years. We have also increased the number of courses available on automation, solar and wind power as well as energy storage in the studies in power engineering, renewable power technologies and Smart Grids,” says Valkealahti. “We always develop the instruction we offer to meet the needs of business life and technological development.”