In July 2021, a national French electricity grid manager called RTE (Réseau de Transport d’Electricité) announced the successful development of an experimental site for the automated control of electricity on a massive scale. According to a statement, this is the first fully operational effort to control the flow of electricity through the grid using automation on such a large scale.
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The site, dubbed Ringo, was designed to govern the flow of energy developed from renewable sources. Since renewable sources such as wind and solar provide intermittent power, tactical storage and release of energy are needed to make these sources more practical and financially viable.
What is Ringo?
Ringo is the result of a public-private partnership between RTE and Nidec Industrial Solutions (NIS). The private company was responsible for developing Ringo’s energy storage system, which would be necessary to optimize energy flow from the site to the grid and back. During times of peak demand, the storage system can release needed energy. When the system’s renewable energy generators generate excess energy, the storage system can capture that energy and store it until certain factors related to demand are met.
In a press release, NIS hailed the inauguration of Ringo as a significant step toward both the increased adoption of renewable energy and smart grid technology. The amount of energy provided by clean energy technology can vary significantly. For instance, solar panels do not generate energy at night.
On the other hand, a bright sunny day can yield more power than is needed by the local grid. The latter situation results in a wasteful dispersion of clean energy. Ringo and systems like it do not waste this excess energy. Widespread adoption of clean energy storage could translate into massive reductions in carbon emissions.
In addition to being a storage system, Ringo also leverages automation to enable a smart grid framework. The production of and demand for electrical energy are often disconnected. This leads to waste and inefficiency, which has not only financial implications but also environmental implications.
The idea behind a smart grid is to sync the supply and demand of electrical power better. At the Ringo site, robotics and automation will be used to gather and act on real-time data. The site uses sensors located on the grid that gauge electron flows. A first-of-its-kind automation system can then optimize storage at the site based on real-time data.
Located in the Côte-d’Or region in northeastern France, the Ringo site was selected based on its high wind energy production. Construction on the Ringo project started in January 2020, and, despite the pandemic, the project met its delivery times. NIS said the current trial run would last three years.
Transitioning to a Smarter Grid using Sensors
In many modern countries, the vast majority of the electrical grid is well over 100 years old. This century-old technology is increasingly being challenged. Renewable energy technology is one piece of the puzzle, but the grid is also being stressed by increased pressure and the ongoing passage of time.
In addition to upgrading legacy infrastructure, smart grid solutions are designed to reduce waste, boosting efficiency to levels needed in the 21st century. The main tenets of a smart grid are automation, smart grid sensors, advanced metering technology, and distributed energy production.
Grid operators have been automating sections of the grid for several years. One of the most common examples is automated meter reading. Rather than sending meter readers into neighborhoods to manually document usage data, utilities now use wireless technology to send meter data to a receiver on a truck passing by a building.
Smart grid sensors are designed to give operators more granular data at various locations on the grid. These sensors can also facilitate faster recoveries from power outages. Currently, there are numerous initiatives dedicated to developing smart sensors with better accuracy range and bandwidth.
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Is based on the idea of two-way, real-time communication between the customer and the grid operator. Leveraging the Internet of Things, AMI technology provides more granular data while engaging the customer and driving active participation in the energy market, possibly through automated energy efficiency technology.
A smart grid approach to power distribution also envisions a distributed production network. Small-scale and household-sized renewable energy solutions are increasingly being adopted, yet the current grid is primarily intended to drive one-way traffic: from the power plant to the user. The Ringo site and its associated wind production facility are a perfect example of what standard energy production might look like in the not-too-distant future.
References and Further Reading
Nidec Industrial Solutions. RTE (Réseau de Transport d’Electricité), together with Nidec Industrial Solutions, launches “Ringo”, the first experiment in the world for the automated management of a large-scale battery system. [Online] Available at: https://www.nidec-industrial.com/rte-nis-launches-ringo/
Smart Energy International. Closing the ‘last mile’ on distribution automation. [Online] Available at: https://www.smart-energy.com/industry-sectors/smart-grid/closing-the-last-mile-on-distribution-automation/
Jasonsoh. The Smart Grid: How automation empowers the future of Electricity. Phoenix Contact. [Online] Available at: https://blog.phoenixcontact.com/marketing-sea/2017/04/smart-grids-how-automation-empowers-the-future-of-electricity/