Can microgrids be a way to electrify remote off grid areas? An EEA-funded project with Norwegian and Romanian partners will test a hydropower-based microgrid in a protected area far from the central transmission grid.
By Henrik Kirkeby and Lena Tøfte, SINTEF Energy Research
The project "Intelligent energetic system in protected areas" is made possible through EEA-grants. SINTEF Energy Research (SINTEF) and Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) collaborate with the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, the Technical University of Iasi, the Polytechnic University of Timisoara, and the SIRET water administration on the Romanian side.
The purpose of the project is to build a microgrid in a protected area as a test case for using microgrids to electrify remote off grid areas, rather than extending the central grid through protected areas.
CIGRE Working group 6.22 has defined microgrids as electricity distribution systems containing loads and distributed energy resources, (such as distributed generators, storage devices, or controllable loads) that can be operated in a controlled, coordinated way either while connected to the main power network or while islanded.
In June, a group of researchers from SINTEF Energy Research, including CEDREN Centre Director Atle Harby, and NTNU and representatives from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) travelled to the Romanian city Iasi to participate at the kick-off meeting and project seminar.
Michel Cervantes and Torbjørn Nielsen from NTNU talked about hydropower turbines, and Georgiana Dunca from the Polytechnic University of Bucharest about hydropower sites for intelligent energy micro-systems. Photos: Lena S. Tøfte
The presidential palace in Iasi. Iasi is the second largest city in Romania, often termed the cultural capital, and is the historical capital in one of the three countries that unified to what we today know as Romania. It is sometimes called the city of a hundred churches, a well-earned nickname considering all the churches we saw in the downtown area. Photo: Lena S. Tøfte
The microgrid to be constructed in the project is located in a nature reserve two hours' drive from Iasi. The grid consists of 5.5 kW PV, a 0.8 kW wind turbine, a 1 kW run of river hydropower turbine, a backup diesel generator, and the main component: a 30 kW hydropower turbine placed between two artificial reservoirs. These two reservoirs are used as the main energy storage in the microgrid by pumping water up and down. When finished the microgrid will provide power to a local monastery, the forest authorities, and local residents, but it will also serve as a live laboratory for testing control systems and other activities at the university of Iasi.
On-site discussions at a dam constructed during the communist regime, to provide water for a sugar factory that was not completed. Photo: Lena S. Tøfte
Going back from the project site, we visited one of the many dams constructed during the communist regime, which currently is not in use. A study from the US has shown that there is a significant power production potential from existing dams, and the participants discussed whether a similar survey should be done in Romania.
It was also discussed if power production from the river could be combined with wind and solar to form a microgrid (without islanding capabilities) that could result in reduced requirements for the grid connection, thus saving costs. Both topics will possibly be addressed in an additional project between the existing partners.
At the kick-off meeting, it was decided that SINTEF and NTNU will do two studies in the project: Determining optimal unit sizing of the microgrid components with a procedure that can be used in later projects, and studies of climate change impact on hydrology and hydropower. Future project proposals were also discussed. During the meeting, we also had the opportunity to see the university campus, including the hydropower lab. The end of the day was spent visiting a group of NGOs located in Iasi, and discussing possible project ideas.
Planning and discussing at the project kick-off meeting. CEDREN Centre Director Atle Harby to the right. Photo: Lena S.Tøfte
As part of the kick-off, there was a seminar with 20-30 participants from the project partners, with many good presentations from the Norwegian and the Romanian partners.
During our visit, our hospitable partners showed us around Iasi. We visited some of the many churches, two monasteries, and the library at the University of Iasi, which has been voted one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
The University library at University of Iasi, which has been voted one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Photo: Henrik Kirkeby
We had a productive and interesting visit to Iasi. We hope to come back when the microgrid in Cracaoani is almost finished. From the left: Torbjørn Nielsen (NTNU), Atle Harby (SINTEF and CEDREN), Costica Roman (Technical University of Iasi), Henrik Kirkeby and Lena S.Tøfte (SINTEF)