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‘Hybrid power plant’ enabled for 65% renewable energy island Graciosa

The project on Graciosa integrates around 1MW of solar PV. Image: Younicos.

A “hybrid power plant”, controlling the grid for an entire island and its inhabitants, will be created with the addition of a management and control platform from energy storage system integrator Greensmith.

Graciosa, a tiny island in the Azores archipelago, has been the site of a project to integrate a high penetration of renewable energy which has been ongoing since 2015. Energy-Storage.News has reported several times on the project, which uses more than a megawatt of solar, 4.5MW of wind energy along with 3.2MWh of lithium battery energy storage and some thermal generation using diesel for backup.

The ‘grid-forming’ project reduces fossil fuel use on the island, which is a Portugese territory, by more than 65% while also reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. System integrator Younicos executed much of the project including installation of batteries, which were supplied by Leclanché for Graciolica, a special project group led by Danish investor Recharge A/S, which has taken a 50.1% stake in the €24 million (US$26.7 million) microgrid project. Such projects can make economic sense as well as social or environmental, due to the high cost of importing fossil fuels to island grids and their populations.

Last week Greensmith, best known for its software platforms with a leadership team that came from the cloud computing industry and decided to apply some of the same principles to energy, said that it had signed contracts to install its Greensmith Energy Management System (GEMS) software and control platform to the island’s new ‘grid’. Graciolica and Recharge A/S placed the order last month, Greensmith said, approved by their client, local utility EDA.

Software and control platform allows integration of diverse resources

The GEMS-powered system will “balance the Graciosa power system to accommodate the inevitable fluctuations in output that are inherent to energy supplied from renewable sources, such as solar and wind,” Greensmith said in a statement. GEMS has been supplied or installed at a number of large-scale energy storage projects in different configurations, including at projects Greensmith itself has delivered as system integrator or storage system provider.

John Jung, Greensmith Energy’s president and CEO, told Energy-Storage.News that the configuration of disparate resources for Graciosa was not a stretch for the company to achieve when asked if the project represented a diversification in the GEMS platform’s usage.

“No, the same GEMS platform is offering the same features and capabilities that are deployed at every energy storage system site. What’s new here is the opportunity to deploy a hybrid power plant that controls the power grid for a whole island community,” Jung said.

“We strongly believe in this hybrid power approach using renewable energy backed by efficient engines.”

The control and management platform offers “far more capability than managing inverters and batteries”, Jung said. He highlighted that even in standalone solutions based on a grid-connected energy storage system, GEMS controls and allows components to interact with “various items” including: SCADA systems, electric metering, HVAC and “even weather forecasts” to help it make “better decisions in running an application”.

While running the whole island off a microgrid is new for Greensmith, the company has already delivered GEMS to Oncor Electric's impressive hybrid microgrid showcase installation in Dallas. That project integrates solar PV and other generation sources with energy storage, and sister publication PV Tech Power covered the microgrid extensively through system integrator S&C Electric in the first half of last year.

A couple of years ago, analyst Sam Wilkinson of research group I.H.S Markit said that for the fledgling energy storage industry as it was, software was the most critical non-battery component of an energy storage system and would only continue to grow in importance; a view John Jung of Greensmith appeared to share.

“The importance of software controls and optimisation to maximise the performance and longevity of energy storage is even more critical as storage becomes an essential grid asset,” Jung said.

“This project exemplifies the promise of hybridized power solutions to enable renewable energy to fulfill the baseload requirement and provide increased grid reliability... Linked together, storage and distributed energy resources can address both supply and demand needs, as well as supply select grid services,” Jung said, adding that GEMS could be the “backbone” of an intelligent energy network based around distributed energy resources (DERs).

Greensmith, acquired by Nasdaq Helsinki-listed power company Wärtsilä for around US$170 million last year, will continue to diversify further from the US markets where the company made its name, according to John Jung. The CEO talked up Wärtsilä’s global reach and the scope to utilise the Finnish company’s engines “with integrated energy storage” in systems controlled by the GEMS platform adding that there “will be many more like this over the months and years to come”.

This article has been amended from its original form to clarify that contracts have been signed but the GEMS platform and software is still to be installed, and also to reflect that the island in question is Graciosa, Portuguese territory in the Azores and not the Spanish-controlled Canary Island of Graciosa further south.

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