Millions of people in London and surrounding areas were left without electricity late Friday afternoon, August 9. While large power outages do occur from time to time, this blackout was unique. Historically, most blackouts have been triggered by natural disasters or cascading failures in which failures in one part of the grid trigger a long chain of failures. This blackout was unique because it was triggered in part due to the unexpected loss of a large wind power plant. While this particular event does not look like it was related to the variability of wind (it appears from media reports there was a malfunction that led the wind plant to shut down) it is a reminder that operating power systems with large amounts of wind and solar generation is different.
While there are many things that can be done to predict these types of sudden changes in wind power, systems also must be robust enough to react rapidly to sudden changes. As variable wind and solar power plants become an increasingly large and essential portion of our electricity supply, new technology must enable the rest of the grid to react in real time to whatever challenges come along. We need to make electricity flexible.
This is exactly what we do at Packetized Energy. Our technology transforms connected energy devices that are already being deployed in millions of homes and businesses into valuable energy storage resources that can automatically react in real time to a wide array of changing grid conditions. Based on this potential, Packetized Energy, along with our research partners at the University of Vermont and Michigan Tech, were recently awarded an expansion to our ARPA-E project to demonstrate this ability of Packetized devices to stabilize the grid by reacting to second-by-second changes in the grid.
For example, Packetized devices will soon be able to react to momentary changes in frequency of the AC (alternating current) waves that come from your wall socket and real-time balancing signals that come from system operators by increasing or decreasing the amount of power that they are using, in order to reduce the chance of large blackouts like the one in London. This type of real-time flexibility is key to enabling the clean energy future that we all want.