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Grids a key challenge for regional solar industry

Networks must be expanded and upgraded to accommodate solar power.

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Bkayrat: Renewable energy makes smart grids essential.
Bkayrat: Renewable energy makes smart grids essential.

The development of national and regional power networks is a key challenge facing the industry with grids in some areas unable to absorb large volumes of solar or renewable energy, and the intermittency of solar power can pose an additional problem.

First Solar, which developed the 13 MW PV plant at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park which started up in October, says renewable energy will drive the need for so called smart grids.

“The adoption of renewable energy has really pushed forward the need to implement smart grids where there is an inter-mix between load and generation points throughout with a smart real time communication, monitoring and control infrastructure,” says Dr Raed Bkayrat, vice president, business development, Saudi Arabia.

“This has also translated into a need for the classical grids to cope instead with multiple variable forms of power generation, often distributed over large geographical areas, far from the load centres.

“This presents an important challenge for the electrical system operators and renewable generation owners, particularly since renewables have the potential to match or even surpass conventional generation in some regions over the next decades to come.

A large part of the challenge arises from the variability of renewable energy generators and so called dispatch-ability of such sources, he adds.

“Solar power plants need sunlight to function and passing clouds, in case of small solar power plants, could impact their ability to consistently generate electricity and maintain the stability of the grid.

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“Conversely, an unusually sunny day in a region with a large volume of distributed generators, during a low demand period, could lead to excess electricity generation, which in turn would impact stability.

“However, with new sophisticated tools and operational practices, grid operators are able to support the integration and reliable operation of variable generation on the electric power system.”

Power for export?
On a regional level the integration of electricity markets could be of huge benefit, producing synergies and lowering costs as well as potentially paving the way for exporting energy to other markets.

Grid integration could help build a “clean energy corridor from Oman to Morocco” with the potential to sell excess capacity to Europe, IRENA’s Frank Wouters told the Menasol conference.

There is significant collaboration between the Middle East and Europe with regards to solar power, says First Solar.

It is estimated that by importing up to 20% of its electricity from the MENA deserts, Europe could save up to $45 bn annually by 2050, which would bring in export income of up to $86 billion to the Middle East.

Vahid Fotuhi believes it is just a matter of time before the Middle East follows other regions down the path of deeper grid integration. “It’s happened in other markets in the world so there’s no reason it should not happen in the Middle East,” he says. 

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