Tech Insights

AI Platform Helps Balance Renewable Energy in the Power Grid

December 07, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

The Finnish power grid will use a grid balancing service to help the country's transmission system operator balance the power system as more intermittent renewables join the grid.

With a growing share of wind resources in the electricity mix, Finland’s transmission system operator (TSO) has been exploring strategies to balance the power system, production, and consumption to accommodate intermittent and unpredictable generation patterns. 

 

The Tahkoluoto offshore wind farm in Finland.

The Tahkoluoto offshore wind farm in Finland. Image used courtesy of Suomen Hyötytuuli Oy

 

The TSO partnered with Exaum, a Finnish grid balancing service provider, to launch a 1 MW pilot project at the Karhulan Industrial Park east of Helsinki. The company’s heat generation-based demand response technology provides near-instantaneous power balancing through a predictive, artificial intelligence-optimized software platform. 

As Finland’s TSO, Fingrid maintains reserve markets that balance real-time electricity production and consumption. Wind power is growing fast in the country, now accounting for about 14% of its electricity mix, necessitating flexibility to ensure consumption and generation remain stable through variable wind patterns. 

Exaum will deploy its 1 MW industrial heat generation plant with market analytics and forecasting software. In addition to helping Fingrid maintain grid stability, Exaum will channel the excess power generated for heating in warehouses and other facilities at the industrial park. 

 

Power balancing cabinets at a pilot project in Kotka, Finland

Power balancing cabinets at a pilot project in Kotka, Finland. Image used courtesy of Exaum

 

Why Is Grid Balancing Needed? 

While fossil fuels can be dispatched on demand according to market needs, renewable energy supply requires enough generation to meet or exceed demand during low wind or solar production. Likewise, battery energy storage systems can absorb extra energy from heavy winds and sunlight and release it when demand is high. More TSOs are integrating energy storage into their balancing strategies.

Demand response functions manage excess generation so consumption meets demand at the right times. Amid the ongoing transition to renewable energy, flexible reserves can fill the gaps left by non-dispatchable resources. 

The heightened demand for flexible reserves isn’t unique to Europe. This vulnerability is being felt globally as more countries phase out dispatchable resources in favor of cleaner but intermittent and volatile renewables. Still, wind farms in Europe are growing at a faster pace than the region’s economic counterparts. In 2022, European countries installed 19 GW of new wind power capacity, according to WindEurope data. Finland accounted for 13% of the total, adding 2.4 GW through onshore wind plants. With 5.6 GW of cumulative capacity, the country is expected to add another 4.8 GW between 2023 and 2027. 

 

Wind generation in Europe, by country.

Wind generation in Europe, by country. Image used courtesy of WindEurope

 

Solar capacity is also growing, though primarily through small-scale solar panels under 1 MVA capacity. Per data from the Finland Energy Authority, more than 600 MW of solar power was connected to Finland’s grid as of late 2022, but only 34 MW was from larger-scale plants exceeding 1 MVA. 

Higher levels of renewables have challenged TSOs’ reliability in recent years. The Nord Pool—comprising the Nordic and Baltic energy markets—uses frequency reserve markets to support grid stability. In the EU, TSOs keep the grid frequency in the nominal range of 49.9 to 50.1 Hz to prevent interruptions and blackouts. To perform this function, TSOs operate reserve markets that produce balancing capacity. 

Nordic TSOs use the automatic frequency restoration reserve (aFRR) system to return the frequency to 50 Hz. The reserve is automatically activated when the TSO sends a request signal based on the frequency deviation in the synchronous area, sent every 10 seconds. Fingrid procures aFRR from the hourly market and other Nordic countries through inter-TSO trades. The minimum adjustment size in Finland is 1 MW, with a five-minute activation time. 

 

Exaum Grid Balancing Pilot

In addition to energy storage solutions and grid enhancements, the role of reserve markets is crucial for Europe and countries worldwide. 

In the pilot with Fingrid, Exaum’s AI-based software will control the charge or discharge of energy when there’s extra wind production and insufficient demand. In this case, the wind turbines aren’t shut down, but the excess energy can heat industrial and residential customers. 

Exaum is already working with TSOs in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. It plans to complete Nordic and Baltic pilots and scale its technology further in Finland. The run-time experience and data from the pilots will help the company fine-tune and further automate the system for larger operations.