Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Idaho National Laboratory

New technology for hydropower microgrids

Agriculture & Energy

Researchers are showing how small communities can maintain critical services during blackout emergencies

Spotted: If there is a widespread power disruption, power suppliers will restart and energise power generation units, transmission lines, and distribution systems to restore the electricity supply, in a process known in industry jargon as a ‘blackstart’. But not all generating plants are suitable for blackstart capacity. Wind turbines, for example, have not traditionally been used for this purpose because there might not be any wind when needed. And as more solar and wind power replaces retiring coal plants, some reliability services are becoming scarcer, with some worrying that issues with blackstart capability could slow down the transition to renewable grids.

Traditionally, small run-of-river hydropower plants have not provided blackstart services, but have many of the required characteristics to do so. Now, researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) have shown that hydropower combined with a mobile microgrid could allow small communities to maintain vital services during emergencies.

In a recent project, power from the research team’s ‘Microgrid in a Box’ was combined with power generated by Fall River Electric Co-operative’s hydropower plant in rural Idaho to restore the electrical supply after a simulated electrical grid blackout. By pairing small-scale hydropower with battery storage and upgrading key components, the researchers are demonstrating that this kind of generation can be equipped to provide blackstart for remote communities.

Traditionally, restoring power has been done at the transmission level by large, centralised plants. Shifting some of this burden to distribution-connected assets and other small hydro plants can allow remote and rural communities to regain power more quickly.

INL plans to publish the field demonstration results, including guidelines for other hydropower owners on what upgrades must be made to prepare for battery-assisted blackstart. INL is also working on a tool to help hydropower owners quantify the value of adding batteries to their existing plant.

As the world is shifting towards renewable resources, Springwise has spotted many innovations looking to adapt to these changes. For example, one startup offers EV charging to multiple parking spaces from a single power source, or another company uses controllable shades to generate electricity.

Written By: Anam Alam


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