Accelerating decarbonization in the Azores with battery storage

Terceira Island is embracing grid edge technology to curb its use of imported diesel and rely more on renewable energy.

The Azores, already known for their lush wildlife and flora, are about to get greener in another respect – making their power supply cleaner and less reliant on fossil-fueled generators. To accomplish this, the archipelago is expanding its local renewable power generation capacity, with grid edge technology playing a key role. Under construction now, Siemens is deploying both a large, autonomous battery-based energy storage system and a smart microgrid management system on Terceira Island, to accelerate the Azores’ path towards a more sustainable electricity grid.

The Azores are well known for their unique variety of plants and animals. The volcanic archipelago, 1400 kilometers from the mainland, is populated with species that are found nowhere else in the world. But the islands will soon offer a new attraction – though one probably more interesting to the technology-minded than to nature lovers: one of the biggest energy storage systems in Europe is under construction on Terceira, one of the archipelago’s nine inhabited islands.

 

Terceira’s capital, Angra do Heroísmo, has an old town and fortifications classified as a UNESCO world heritage site. But the latest technology will now make it possible to supply more renewable energy to the historic city – along with all the other towns on the island.

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The Azores’ history utilizing renewable energy goes back decades. In the late 1980s they installed the archipelago’s first wind turbines, and the first geothermal power plant was commissioned a short time later. Today, all the inhabited islands produce power from renewable sources. About 40 percent of the archipelago’s electricity needs are met with renewable sources. Geothermal is especially significant, accounting for 60 percent of total renewable electricity generated; the rest comes mainly from wind and hydroelectric plants.

A threatened island paradise

Like all islands, the Azores are especially vulnerable to climate change. Rising seas threaten low coastal areas. And researchers expect that many islands will have to contend with increasing drought in the coming decades – a potential threat to the drinking water supply.

 

Of course, the islands can’t solve this problem on their own, but they can do their share to reduce global CO2 emissions. On the Azores, this is being done as part of a comprehensive energy strategy, which provides for not only a continuous expansion of renewable energy, but a variety of other steps like encouraging eMobility.

 

By expanding local, renewable energy production, the Azores are solving two problems at once. More power from renewable sources means lowering greenhouse gas emissions. And local production reduces dependence on the mainland – because some 60 percent of necessary energy is still imported to the islands in the form of fossil fuels.

Interim storage for a more stable grid

Each island has its own independent grid. So, the power supply can’t be revamped for the archipelago as a whole, but will literally need individualized island solutions – for instance on Terceira. Here the Portuguese utility Electricidade dos Açores (EDA) is investing in innovative grid edge technology: a battery storage system with a capacity of 15 megawatts (MW), combined with the Spectrum Power Microgrid Management System from Siemens.

 

The storage system provided by Fluence ensures that no autonomously produced electricity is wasted, and all gets used as efficiently as possible. It absorbs surplus energy, then discharges it back into the grid to cover demand when production is too low. 

Storage technology in combination with the microgrid application helps us maximize integration of renewable energy sources on Terceira.
Duarte José Botelho da Ponte, CEO of Electricidade dos Açores

The storage system also regulates frequency and voltage for the archipelago’s electric grid – and thus improves stability. “The energy storage system is enabling Terceira to transition to a new energy mix,” says Fernando Silva, Director of Smart Infrastructure at Siemens Portugal.

 

"The percentage of renewable energy can be increased, use of fossil fuels can be pared back, and greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced significantly. On top of that, the system will make the islands’ power supply more independent – with greater grid flexibility, capacity, resilience and autonomy.”

Intelligent microgrid management system ensures efficiency

The Spectrum Power Microgrid Management System ensures that power generation, battery storage and power consumption all work together in the best way. It allows real-time monitoring and control for the entire infrastructure, and can make hourly or daily projections for production, consumption, and storage utilization, based on a wide range of data – including weather.

 

“That means we can pursue an optimized operating strategy and make the supply more reliable for our customers,” says Duarte José Botelho da Ponte, CEO of EDA. “Storage technology in combination with the microgrid application helps us maximize integration of renewable energy sources on Terceira. At the same time, it lets us ensure a high-quality, reliable energy supply.”

 

The system can incorporate an additional six megawatts into the power mix from renewable or endogenous sources like geothermal production. That means that with the new battery storage system, within the medium term the island will be able to expand its share of renewable energy to around 60 percent. Once that goal has been reached, the modularly designed battery system can be expanded as needed. This follows the example of other rapidly decarbonizing island grids, such as Ireland, which is quickly moving to meet a target of obtaining 70 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030, and which is also procuring battery storage to help meet its goals.

 

The current configuration will already deliver measurable improvements. The island’s annual diesel consumption is expected to be cut by 1,150 metric tons, because less electricity must be produced with generators. That’s equivalent to a reduction of more than 3,500 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year – roughly the equivalent of 1,500 vehicles driving 20,000 kilometers a year. So, after all, the new storage system will very likely appeal to not just tech aficionados, but nature-lovers as well.

November 11, 2020

Picture credits: Siemens AG / Getty Images

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