Grid (un)locked

Harmeet Bawa

ABB microgrids empower the Last Frontier, bringing reliable electricity to remote and isolated areas

What do the remote islands of Alaska have in common with the ABB FIA Formula E race in New York? More than you would think. Not only are they both located in the US, but ABB innovation is the driving force behind them. And people will have the chance to witness at least part of this, as the last leg of the ABB FIA Formula E 2018 championship series will race through the streets of New York on July 14-15.

Let’s also make the “grid” connection(s). The starting line-up in car races, which is generally in rows of two side-by-side cars, is referred to as the grid formation, as is the case with the ABB FIA Formula E race series. Then there is the transmission grid that helps bring electricity, often from clean renewable energy sources, to power homes, factories, buildings and rail networks. In fact, electric energy will not just power e-cars at the race but will also feed the needs of the rapidly increasing fleet of private and public vehicles that will shape sustainable transport as the world increasingly goes electric.

So there is the race grid and the power transmission grid as we know it. Now for another kind of grid – the microgrid. This cutting-edge technology is changing the lives of people who live on islands and in remote areas. For some, they provide the first and only reliable power source, making safe cooking and education possible even after the sun goes down. For others who depend heavily on expensive imported fossil fuel, microgrids nurture economic development by cutting costs and environmental impact dramatically. Automated microgrid technology and storage solutions are also helping utilities efficiently manage power systems that deploy a combination of power sources, integrating more renewables than ever before.

As the world leader in this space, ABB has over 60 microgrid installations across the world, many of which are in the U.S. and surrounding regions. Alaska is a perfect example of how ABB’s innovative microgrid solutions are bringing reliable power to the world’s most remote areas that also have some of the harshest climates.

In the small communities of Deering and Buckland, with populations of 200 and 400 mostly indigenous Inupiaq people, ABB’s advanced modular “plug-and-play” microgrid solutions will help integrate more renewable energy into the power supply. The towns, like many in the area, are too small and remote to be grid-connected and thus rely heavily on imported diesel fuel, which is costly, unfriendly to the environment and can be difficult to transport in extreme weather.

Wind turbines installed in the area to help offset these costs have been underutilized due to the intermittent and unstable nature of wind power. Microgrid solutions, like ABB AbilityTM PowerStoreTM, which will leverage ABB Ability Microgrid Plus control and automation system, can maximize adoption of wind power and help these communities lower their costs and pursue a sustainable future.

In Anchorage, ABB is supplying an innovative microgrid solution that combines two energy storage technologies, batteries and flywheel, and is designed to improve power stability for around 300,000 in the state’s largest city. The small scale project, initiated by Chugach Electric Association, Inc., aims to identify technologies that will enable the integration of more renewables, including wind power from a 17 megawatt (MW) wind farm on Fire Island, located about 4 km off the coast of Anchorage, which will work in concert with the innovative storage solution.

ABB’s modular and containerized microgrid solution ABB Ability PowerStoreTM will blend the complementary capabilities of two storage technologies – the flywheel will facilitate the integration of fluctuating wind power, and the battery will be used for long-term storage. The battery has a capacity of 500 kilowatt hours with a maximum performance of 2 MW.

Some of ABB’s microgrid solutions address unique challenges, like the one faced by Kodiak Island, off the coast of Anchorage, where a new crane requiring large amounts of electrical power was being installed.

The City of Kodiak had decided to upgrade its existing diesel crane to an electrically driven one that had expanded capabilities and could enhance the area’s port operations. The larger crane, however, was expected to generate power fluctuations that can be particularly destabilizing for an isolated grid like the one on Kodiak Island. To help address stability challenges, an ABB Ability PowerStore solution with flywheel technology was designed with a battery system to integrate more renewable energy from an expanded wind farm to the microgrid. PowerStore’s dynamic response to transient events such as those expected from the new crane as well as the ability to carry out infinite charge and discharge cycles without degrading the PowerStore’s life expectancy made it an ideal fit.

The project was undertaken on behalf of Kodiak Electric Association (KEA), an electric cooperative owned by residents of the Island.

In Fairbanks, ABB supplied the world’s largest battery-energy storage system to help increase grid reliability and the availability of power in the remote area. The battery, which is larger than a soccer field, is being entered in the Guinness Book of Records. It can provide continuous voltage support during normal operation, as well as immediate energy back-up during system disturbances.

The energy storage system’s 13,760 energy cells, with all four strings operational, are able to feed the power grid in an emergency with 40 MW of power for 6-7 minutes, or 27 MW of power for 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes is long enough to cover the time between a system disturbances and diesel-powered back- up generators being online. The battery, which is manufactured from recycled cadmium by the Saft battery production company, is safe, reliable and will be recycled again at the end of its 20-year lifecycle.

Thanks to ABB technology there are on-grid, off-grid and race-grid solutions to serve a range of applications and consumer needs. The vision is clear – we want to help power the world without consuming the earth – and the grid is now (un) locked in every sense! So let’s write the future. Together.

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About the author

Harmeet Bawa

I am Global Head of Communications for ABB's Power Grids division based at the Group headquarters in Switzerland. I've served in the UK, Sweden, India and South-Asia Pacific region across a range of functions spanning business and market development, strategy and corporate planning, communications, sustainability and investor relations.
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  • Shurjil Syed

    Great insights into ABB Ability and our innovation in microgrid solutions!