Revamping Electrical Infrastructure for Renewable

Planning on the infrastructure is crucial to determine the viability of projects particularly in power sector. Poor planning became apparent most recently when a coal fired  power plant located in Sahiwal, Pakistan faced logistic problems. Sahiwal is land locked and almost 800 miles from the nearest sea port. The coal extracted in the region around the plant was deemed inappropriate for use because of its low quality. It became evident in the early stages that coal will have to be imported. The name plate capacity of the power plant is around 1.3 GW. With a thread bare railway infrastructure which is already packed with traffic, supplying imported coal to the plant has resulted in added costs.

In hindsight, it would have been cheaper to locate the power plant in the port city of Karachi and transmit the power. Laying down transmission line infrastructure would have been far cheaper than trying to lay down a railway line. These failures point out to old age thinking in modern fast paced era.

Sahiwal Power Project location in Pakistan

Sahiwal Power Project location in Pakistan

All around the world, HVDC power lines are being laid down to bridge the gap between renewable rich areas and  energy sinks (regions, cities where energy is consumed most). In Scotland for example, a high power transmission line is being laid down between Beauly to Denny. This would connect the marine energy rich, north sea region to the central belt of Scotland, where bulk of the population resides. Note that HVDC is not only more economical but also has less line losses compared to HVAC.

To tap effectively in to renewable energy, the grid infrastructure has to change. Wind farms, Solar Farms and Wave Farms are mostly located far away from the population centres.  Therefore electricity grid has to be remapped. Furthermore, the intermittency of Renewable is a problem that needs to be tackled  with diligence. The more renewables we pack in the energy mix, the more  fluctuation can result.  A case in point is Germany where renewable output in the grid can fluctuate between 10% to 27% in the same hour.

To counter this intermittency, Grid level storage solutions are being explored. For example in Germany, Berlin based battery storage firm Younicos and electricity supplier WEMAG commissioned the first battery-park in Schwerin in 2014. This big energy storage facility (14 MWh capacity) will help to stabilize the area’s grid frequency which would allow more renewable energy to come online.

China is heavily revamping its electrical infrastructure to align its self with the aspirations of being a giant in Renewable energy. HVDC lines are being laid down across the length and breath of the country. India on the other hand,  has ventured far in to renewables, but their lack of infrastructure change is making their emerging setup a botched job.

With new technology, old habits have to be shed.  The grid of tomorrow will have to be a very different web, then it is today.

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