FlexPlan: Using Storage and Flexibility to Avoid New Grid Investments
Date: September 15th 2020
Author: Tanja Srnovršnik
The high-speed deployment of renewables is making transmission and distribution grid planning increasingly complex and affected by a high level of uncertainty, which is additionally exacerbated by public opposition to building new power lines. To address this issue the aim of the Horizon 2020 project - FlexPlan – is to establish a new grid planning methodology that takes into account the opportunity to introduce new storage and flexibility resources in electricity transmission and distribution grids as an alternative to building new grid elements, said the coordinator of the project, Gianluigi Migliavacca, from Italian RSE, on Wednesday in a webinar dedicated to the project.According to Andrei Z. Morch from another partner of the FlexPlan project, SINTEF Energi, the European Commission has strongly emphasised the need for efficiency in various activities of the power system, including e.g. utilisation of already existing resources, such as demand response, which might have the potential to reduce the necessity for new grid investments.
In the Clean Energy Package (CEP), the Commission proposes consideration of the existing flexibility resources as a consistent part of network expansion planning as well as consideration of demand response and storage with the same priority as generation in dispatching and re-dispatching procedures, said Morch.
However, it is currently difficult to see any common cases of well-established practice in this regard in Europe, “meaning that the process is still under development,” noted Morch in the webinar organised by the ISGAN Academy on Smart Grids.
Furthermore, grid investments “are capital intensive and the lifetime of transmission infrastructure spans several decades. This means that when a new line is commissioned, it might already be partially regarded as a stranded cost,” stressed Migliavacca.
Additionally, the construction of new power lines “is meeting increasing hostility among the public, which means planning activities takes even longer and it is affected by uncertainties,” warned Migliavacca.
As variable flows from renewables “are generating a new type of intermittent congestion, which can sometimes be well compensated with system flexibility, investments in a new line would not be justified. Perhaps flexibility and storage would be a better solution,” noted Migliavacca.
Migliavacca added that there is also “an on-going debate on the selection of storage technologies and system flexibility to make the injection of renewables into the grid more predictable (virtual power plants).”
“Hence the idea of establishing a new grid planning methodology that takes into account the opportunity to introduce new storage and flexibility resources in electricity transmission and distribution grids as an alternative to building new grid elements,” explained Migliavacca.
Providing NRAs with regulatory guidelines on how to incentivise storage and flexibility
Thus, the goal is to create “a new tool to optimise transmission and distribution grid planning, considering the placement of flexibility elements located both in transmission and distribution networks as an alternative to traditional grid planning: in particular storage, plug-in electric vehicles (PEV), and demand response,” said Migliavacca.
However, FlexPlan is not limited to building a new tool but to also use it to analyse six regional cases covering nearly the entire European continent, the aim of which is to demonstrate the application of the tool in real scenarios as well as to cast a view on grid planning in Europe up to 2050.
“The FlexPlan project is thus attempting to answer the question of what role flexibility could play and how its usage can contribute to reduce planning investments yet maintaining (at least) the current system security levels,” according to the project’s description.
In addition to providing system operators with a tool to allow storage and flexibility to be included in grid planning analyses, another of the aims of the FlexPlan project is to provide national regulatory authorities (NRAs) “with a set of regulatory guidelines to allow optimal exploitation of the advantages storage and flexibility could provide to the system,” said Migliavacca.
“While the traditional grid planning activities must be carried out by TSOs and DSOs, investments in storage and flexibility will remain mostly in the hands of private investors,” stressed Migliavacca.
“This means that depending on the results of the planning phase carried out by system operators, NRAs should translate the suitability of deploying new storage or flexibility in strategic network locations into opportune incentivisation forms aimed at those who are possibly going to invest in that direction. This significantly complicates the scheme in terms of traditional planning modalities whereby, after carrying out their planning analyses, system operators were the only subject entitled to invest,” he noted.
Morch added that the European Commission “has started formalising the process of several new business players, including citizens energy communities, by indicating the scope of their roles and responsibilities in the IEM (internal electricity market; author’s note) directive.”
Eurelectric also “views these communities as an important future resource, which can be tasked with several new duties (especially balancing responsibility) when acting either as a supplier, an active customer, a DSO, or as any other system user.”
“The introduction of new players, e.g. citizens energy communities, could change the landscape and roles/procedures applied both in the planning and in the operation phases,” said Morch.
“There are strong regulatory signals prompting European system operators to consider flexible resources as a new important active subject in formulation of the grid expansion planning process. However, despite strong efforts from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) to develop common methodologic principles, there are still several elements missing in the puzzle,” added Morch.
The FlexPlan project includes 13 partners from eight countries, including the Slovenian electricity TSO, ELES.
This article is available also in Slovene.