Capacity first?

…then Reliability, then Efficiency?

Developing an electrical network is a question of priorities. As is developing anything I guess… Which priorities do you think are most important?

You probably agree that the first step in building an electrical system is bringing access to electricity to most of the population, right?

Capacity to efficiency

This might seem solved, but in reality, access to electricity is still far from being universal. Still 1,2 billion people don’t have access to electricity. It’s in fact part of sustainable development goal 7, and, actually, the road to SDG7 is the road to Energythaca.

While building additional lines and power generation units to solve access to electricity, the values of reliability and efficiency are normally not on the top of mind for system planning. What if access to electricity is provided by renewable microgrids, would values like reliability and energy efficiency be achieved at the same time?

This would happen because losses from remote generation to consumption are avoided and the load is best sincronized with the local generation. Besides, building self-consumption and microgrids makes capacity planning much simpler, avoiding the typical country-wide capacity estimations that lead to undercapacity (for example Zambia) or overcapacity (for example Spain). Predicting load growth and planning capacity is complicated and risky. Would it be better to leave it to individuals and microgrids, as well as to the market?

The good news for this is that building new generation is becoming much faster with renewables, where GW of solar power are built within months (while for example nuclear power needs around 10 years, as the finnish example shows)

So, once capacity is solved, system planners devote their efforts to reliability, improving the service indexes that allow industries to become more productive and services to be delivered seamlessly. Can this also be left to the individual industries and individuals?

If reliability is achieved locally by means of diesel emergency generators, we face underused carbon intensive assets that belong to a time before the actual energy transition. Islandable renewables and battery energy storage, especially if “with wheels”, is a more sustainable and future-proof solution.

Once capacity and reliability reach a certain threshold, where do you think the focus goes (and also the most profitable business if market driven)?

Efficiency, right? At one point, increasing reliability in a small % requires strong investments while improving efficiency has a much better return on investment (as is proven by smart grid research). At the same point in time, increasing capacity might bring underused assets with low profitability.

In summary, to develop power systems, could we consider some ideas?

First, how is it possible to empower more the individuals and industries to develop capacity, driven by a market with reasonable regulation? (unlike Spanish self-consumption law). Would this bring reliability and efficiency as market-driven?

For example, what is the most important driver for energy efficiency, at the end of the day? Power price. It is the lever, although in the extreme case it may lead to a grid independence cycle. On the other side of the table, pricing reliability to utilities and de-coupling their revenues from energy sales to efficiency and reliability drives these priorities too.

Empower miracle light

Empowering individuals is the best bet? (Image by Adam Jackson on freeimages.com)

Let’s also have a look at one example strongly present in the media for some time, the Egyptian power system situation:

Here, there is a strong and urgent drive to build capacity because of shortages that affect reliability and load shedding.

One would think this system to be more in the reliability phase, as access to electricity is widespread (100% according to WB) and focus on reliability systems in the network or efficiency, right? An example, implementing FACTS systems. More stability allows more power delivery while improving reliability, without additional capacity building.

Or, this could have been left to the market through democratization of power generation (distributed community solar, self-consumption, etc)? Doing more demand energy policy, as we discussed for Saudi previously. The risk now is in building “pre-energy-transition assets” such as coal and gas fired power plants, that will have to be shut down before amortization or become stranded assets as new more competitive renewables compete better and stronger or even if the result is overcapacity.

So, what ways do you think are best to develop power systems?

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