What Real-time Grid Operations Must Believe in A Zero-Carbon Future?

Plotted by the author

Reliable Energy Output

The meaning of reliable energy is twofold. First, the resource should be able to provide a stable energy output for the duration needed. For example, a generator with an available capacity greater than 100 MW must maintain its generation at 100 MW. If, however, the “stable” requirement cannot be met, the output must be predictable so that the exact amount of energy can be prepared and dispatched to compensate. Failing to be predictable in a zero-carbon environment will not only trigger extreme energy prices but could cause severe balancing problems that jeopardize the grid’s reliability.


Flexible Usage

Flexibility refers to a resource’s ability to be committed, dispatched, decommitted, and recommitted when needed. The fewer constraints the resource imposes, the more flexible it is. Constraints can be divided into two categories: Hard and soft. Hard constraints are set by physical limitations such as minimum on/offline time (thermal), maximum charges/discharges (battery), and reservoir storage (hydro). In contrast, soft constraints are mainly financial- or regulation-driven, such as tax incentives or emission quotas. These constraints will to varying degrees, limit the grid operator’s ability to utilize the resource to handle changing operating conditions.


Sufficient Transmission Capacity

Depending on where you are, additional transmission infrastructure could be a scarce good. However, renewable resources are usually locational, and chances are the areas where renewable resources are abundant may not match those that need them. This locational mismatch requires additional transmission capacities to bring clean energy to the grid. Furthermore, real-time operations need to deal with all kinds of grid issues, planned and forced, which were not and cannot be foreseen by long-term resource and transmission planning. Having sufficient transmission capacity reserve brings more flexibility and provides more options in real-time when a grid emergency occurs.



This article reviewed the characteristics of clean energy resources critical to real-time grid operations in the zero-carbon energy future. Reliable and controllable power from clean energy resources and sufficient transmission capacity are crucial to maintaining the future zero-carbon grid’s reliability. However, despite the recent developments in the energy sector, many challenges remain and need to be resolved shortly. Furthermore, it is important to note that many obstacles of a zero-carbon grid are fundamentally not driven by power systems but by policies and technological advancements in other fields. The utility industry, for example, is relying on advances in chemistry, material science, and forecasting technologies to relax or remove some of the physical constraints that limit the efficient use of the resources today. Lastly, policy and financial incentives must be carefully designed and continuously reviewed to capture the fast-changing landscape of the energy space.



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Hui Z

Hui Z

Experienced engineer and team leader with 10+ years of experience in the energy domain | Leading the energy transformation and grid innovations