According to McKinsey, offshore wind capacity worldwide is slated to reach 630 gigawatts (GW) by 2050 from a meager 40 GW in 2020. As the climate challenge quickens, the need to transition to a sustainable energy pace has become palpable. The aim, of course, is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. International efforts are increasingly turning towards clean technologies to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and rely more on renewable energy sources. To this end, utility-scale wind energy is the cheapest renewable energy form. Wind power expansion has been brewing up a storm registering rapid growth, and utility companies all over the world have ramped up the development of large-scale offshore wind farms.
Grid integration is becoming a bottleneck for greener grids
Maintaining a stable grid over vast geographical distances is always challenging. Energy consumption patterns vary, and all grids require a minimum level of energy flow or a constant base load. While balancing grid variability has always been a concern, especially with larger grids, it is normally managed through flexible generation. But additional variability factors with wind energy may require generators that feature higher ramp rates, deeper cycles, and wind turbines to maintain grid inertia. Wind power plants (WPPs) are typically located off-shore in remote areas or on the sea. Connecting them to onshore grids may require a new or an upgrade to the existing transmission lines with issues such as high losses and high voltage level fluctuations at interconnection points, requiring reactive power compensation etc.
Utilities typically make use of High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) and FACTS (Flexible AC Transmission Systems) solutions to transmit more power over long distances. Such HV systems also allow them to efficiently integrate energy from renewables, connect grids in a network, and improve its overall performance. Whether utilities are looking to support existing systems or develop new power lanes, HV systems are needed for both. In the case of centralized utility-scale generation of renewable energy, such as large-scale offshore wind farms, there is a need to connect with the onshore grid through high-voltage grid integration infrastructure.
In the past, grid integration was often approached on an ad hoc, project-by-project basis. The approach was on project-specific requirements and engineering of various related components such as HV transmission infrastructure, HV primary equipment, connecting substations, auxiliary systems, and, more importantly, the timely completion and quality of deliverables. Not much attention was paid to capturing the related knowledge, nurturing it, scaling it, and optimizing the respective process. Because of the significant increase in grid integration projects, it is essential to capture the knowledge and prepare to address the large volume requirements coming up across the world in a very cost-effective and efficient manner. Engineering service providers have a critical role to play here, to scale up and support OEMs to address the unprecedented scenario of a large pipeline of grid integration projects.
Lack of right-skilled talent pool to handle HV grid integration projects
Updating our HV energy transmission infrastructure is a pressing need, but there are only a few companies across the world capable of carrying out such complex infrastructure requirements. Transmission projects have a much longer lead time. High Voltage infrastructure (HVDC, HVAC, HV Substations etc.) projects are typically time and resource-intensive to the point where only a few can be carried out at any given time by the respective OEMs. McKinsey estimates that global renewable electricity capacity will reach more than 5,022 gigawatts by 2026 - an unbelievable increase of more than 80 percent from 2020. Two-thirds of this growth will be driven by wind and solar, registering a 150 percent increase at 3,404 gigawatts. McKinsey also says renewables could generate as much as 60 percent of global electricity by 2035. As the cost of renewables plummet and demand for energy rises precipitously, companies could be faced with the prospect of handling 4-5x the number of current high voltage installations.
While handling the volume of high-voltage installations is challenging enough, companies may also have to contend with a yawning skill set gap regarding multi-disciplinary engineering services required to implement grid integrations. In India, a key country slated to jump from fossil fuel to renewables, there is an eye-watering need for more than 2 million additional skilled technical workers in the power sector by 2022, given the government’s ambitious goal to reach 175 GW of renewable energy generation capacity.
The list of OEMs and utilities taking up major HV grid integration projects are growing longer. While we cannot expect thousands of people with the right skills to suddenly appear, there is a pressing need for continued investments in building relevant engineering capacity in the workforce. This is where engineering service providers like Quest Global are ideally positioned to bridge the gap between engineers and a workforce ready to tackle high-voltage installations. Knowing the industry's need, Quest Global has invested in building a Grid Academy to retain the knowledge gained through projects and upskill the resources to ensure the availability of enough talent to the industry. Grid Academy manages the expertise and conducts various programs to upskill its resources and the customer’s resources, collaborates with identified industry veterans (consultants) and universities known for Power System research programs and related infrastructures. Quest Global is a one-stop solution provider for retraining and retooling global engineering talent to carry out HV installations.
Need to shift from a staff augmentation model to Grid Integration as a Service (GIaaS)
With global recognition from HV equipment OEMs, Quest Global has critical domain expertise in designing, detailing, and delivering customized grid integration sub-systems for various applications.This knowledge base enables us to offer a deeper level partnership than the ad-hocstaff augmentation model employed by most OEMs and utilities. Quest Services for Grid Integration includes industry-leading adaptive consultation, end-to-end solution offerings, and ownership of identified workstreams. Our Grid Integration as a Service (GIaaS) can enhance the capacity of OEMs to execute HV projects at scale and accelerate the transformation of the grid.