Electricity is an increasingly complex industry in the midst of transition to renewables and decarbonization. Using my 25 years’ experience as an engineer, policy analyst, and academic, I help my consulting clients think through their toughest technical challenges and formulate their best business strategies.

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“Smart Grids” course features industry experts

Ross Baldick Consulting

Dr. Ross Baldick hosts industry experts for his new UT course, “Smart Grids.”

I’ve been in the thick of it recently, putting the finishing touches on a new course I’ve designed about smart grids for my students at UT Austin. “Smart Grids” begins in less than two weeks.

Back story: During more than a year of preparation, I could not find any text suitable for engineering students. That’s when I started enlisting the help of colleagues, who generously agreed to serve as the “text” for the course. Fortunately for us, we have a wealth of expertise in Austin and Texas. More than a dozen industry guests, including Brewster McCracken of Pecan Street and Bill Muston of Oncor, will lecture on topics from generation and transmission to end-use. We will be asking: What is a smart grid? What does a self-healing grid mean? What are the costs and benefits of a smart grid?

Each lecturer has assembled slides, and each one will be made publicly available on the course webpage: http://users.ece.utexas.edu/~baldick/classes/379K/EE379K.html

So far, the webpage features only my course introduction, but you can see the topic headings laid out for the whole semester. You’re invited to check back for the slide presentations as they become available throughout the semester.

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How much storage is even feasible?

Ross Baldick ConsultingIn response to my last post, about the challenges of wind integration, a reader asked: “Is building storage of this scale even feasible?”

If you had asked me in 2000, “Could wind get to 18GW wind in ERCOT by 2016?” I would have answered no!

I would have been concerned about technical feasibility as well as cost. Technical feasibility has not turned out to be a  problem at that level of penetration, so I would now shy away from claiming technical non-feasibility for storage.

Indeed, I think one can contemplate large-scale dispatched storage (end even some way to dispatch small scale distributed storage) that would make it compatible with existing grid control paradigms at even very high penetrations of storage. Certainly, the battery regulation AS providers are taking ISO signals that look like standard dispatch signals.

The big stopping point continues to be cost. If Elon Musk can make it cheap, and can add some dispatchability, there could be a lot of storage. However, I’d prefer to first wring out from the thermal generators as much controlability as we can get before we blow a lot of money on storage.

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ERCOT: meeting the challenges of wind integration

Ross Baldick (left) receives Outstanding Engineer Award 2015 from Joel Sandahl, Chair of Power and Energy Society, Power Electronics Society, Industry Applications Society, and Industrial Electronics Society Austin Texas Chapter.

Texas has, by far, the highest penetration of wind among the three main US interconnections (Eastern, Western, and Texas), and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has met the challenges of wind integration. ERCOT is set to get even more wind power, which will present even greater challenges, because of the relationship between wind production and electricity demand.

Several of my students, most recently Dr. Duehee Lee, have investigated the statistics of wind production to understand this relationship. Recent joint work with Lee (reported at Wind Farms in Dallas in May, and more recently at the Austin IEEE Power and Energy Society chapter meeting and the Berlin Conference on Energy and Electricity Economics) analyzed the relationship between wind and load variation at various timescales. We want to understand how the variability of wind at various timescales will affect the operation of ERCOT, and what resources will therefore be necessary to compensate for this variation, whether it is agile generation or battery storage.

West Texas inland wind presents a particular problem, because it tends to be negatively correlated with load, while near-coastal wind is weakly correlated and therefore a better match to load. This means that increased amounts of inland wind will not offset the need for other generation capacity to cover the peaks in demand. Moreover, this generation capacity will also need to be increasingly flexible to accommodate wind production that occurs off-peak.

Furthermore, while aggregating large numbers of farms tends to smooth intra-hour fluctuations of wind, in contrast, the longer term fluctuations of wind, and particularly the negative correlation of inland wind and load will not be “solved” by aggregation of West Texas wind.

Coastal Texas wind has better correlation with load from this perspective, but it may be more difficult to build much more coastal wind due to environmental and other considerations. An open question is how much more wind can be accommodated in the ERCOT market before we need to build large-scale storage.

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Solar in a Quito hotel

I recently had the pleasure of staying at a hotel in the old town of Quito, Ecuador, and saw a photovoltaic (PV) installation that would seem strange in most of the world.

We typically see PV panels tilting toward the south in the northern hemisphere or toward the north in the southern hemisphere, in order to capture the sun’s rays. A variation is to tilt toward the west in afternoon-peaking locations, such as Austin, Texas, where air conditioning drives peak loads. (Click here to read the work by Pecan Street that considers the tradeoffs between maximizing energy production and maximizing the value of that energy).

At my hotel in Quito, however, the courtyard had been covered by horizontal PV panels:

quito-solar-1 | Ross Baldick Consulting

As well as being an attractive building-integrated PV awning, it was also perfectly oriented, since Quito is almost on the equator. It allowed some light through to the courtyard below, because the PV cells were mounted on a transparent support (see below), and also provided shade for the courtyard.

quito-solar-2 | Ross Baldick Consulting

The combination of an old colonial building with updated decor and energy sources made for a lovely stay in this charming town.

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