The Eversource Energy Center, a partnership between Eversource Inc. and the University of Connecticut, is conducting research on renewable energy integration. Integration involves identifying renewable energy resources and storage to maintain the electric grid against weather hazards.
Dr. Malaquias Peña, the Grid Modernization Team Leader at Eversource Energy Center and an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, said in New England there is an expectation of use in terms of renewable energy, with 40% to 50% of energy expected to be from renewable sources by 2030.
Peña highlighted one of the major areas of concern when it comes to renewable energy includes not only the PV panels or wind turbines, but also batteries and other energy resources used to maintain sufficient operating reserves in the grid in order to sustain a reliable flow of energy.
The issue of weather and preparing for storms or conditions that might threaten a power grid is also pressing. According to Peña, preparing for such scenarios is critical to ensuring the efficient flow of renewable energy, but also protecting the larger power grid.
“The other issue that has been addressed is energy generation and weather, as you heard from the news in Texas, when you have big storms, there are some situations in which systems will temporarily be down, so predicting those scenarios could help us plan on the reserves needed for energy supply,” Peña said. “With enough planning, resources and simulations we should be able to cope with those situations coming up.”
Peña said not only is extreme weather a potential threat to renewable energy, but more mundane variations in weather, such as cloudiness or lack of wind, can affect the availability of wind or solar energy if precautions are not taken.
“There are very strong fluctuations in the energy, such as very strong winds and all of a sudden very weak winds or persistent cloudy conditions which would prevent wind and solar energy, respectively, so if these changes are not carefully integrated into the other resources than it creates some issues, but fortunately the New England vision is to continue preparing with enough capabilities to withstand strong weather conditions,” Peña said. “It is just a matter of how to prepare or create these scenarios in advance accurately, so we can manage that as it is happening.“
Research on the interdisciplinary approach to renewable energy is not the only research being done by the Eversource Energy Center. Genevieve Rigler, Master of Environmental Engineering graduate student and graduate research assistant, and Stergios Emmanouil, a Ph.D. candidate & graduate research assistant, are working on creating renewable energy opportunities by creating a highly sophisticated map for energy planners to determine the best ways to create and deliver renewable energy across the state.
“Stergios and I are working on the potential of solar, wind, both onshore and offshore and pumped hydropower. The first thing we have to understand is, are there different areas in Connecticut that get more sun? Are there different areas that get more wind? And how do they complement each other?” Rigler said. “Let’s just say the Northwest has more wind but less sun, what does that mean practically for the grid? Because we need electricity as soon as we turn a light and don’t expect it not to, we don’t want this variability. We are working to deliver maps at a temporal and spatial scale that are useful enough for energy planners, at a resolution that’s helpful enough for them at an hourly scale.”
Emmanouil also stressed the importance of using hydro pumps as a strategy for maintaining a reliable flow of energy. According to Emmanouil, pump hydro essentially acts as a battery. It saves the energy created by other renewable sources such as wind and solar in order to be saved and released when needed.
“Everyone’s voice is important for this topic of energy. “Genevieve Rigler, Master of Environmental Engineering Graduate Student and Graduate Research Assistant
This creates a constant flow of energy, even when no energy can be created, according to Emmanouil.
“We use this pump hydro storage with renewable energy, so we gather energy from the sun and the wind so that we can store it as potential energy in water reservoirs and then use them as we see fit, at specific times,” Emmanouil said. “You store it and release it when you need it.”
All three researchers encouraged others interested in renewable energy to become involved with this research.
“We would like to expand our collaboration to faculty and undergraduate students. We are creating some opportunities at the center with some funding for undergraduate students, under-represented groups, so our interest is to expand the base of people interested in renewable energy or energy in general,” Peña said.
“Everyone’s voice is important for this topic of energy. I took specific skills and knowledge I gained from the humanities and carried them over into environmental engineering, the study of energy overlaps with many other disciplines. Don’t feel if you don’t have an engineering background that you won’t have a voice here or role that you can play,” Rigler said.