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Optimizing a virtual power plant

An ABB plant optimization solution has helped a young company create one of Germany’s biggest virtual power plants for renewable energy.

The solution enables Next Kraftwerke to pool the production of hundreds of small- and mediumsized renewable energy plants into a virtual power plant (VPP) that has the scale and fl exibility to participate in the country’s lucrative ancillary services market. The solution collects plant production and grid balancing data, performs realtime optimization calculations, and determines the production schedules for each power plant to ensure that grid stability is maintained and plant constraints are observed.

Ancillary grid services are measures that transmission system operators (TSOs) use to maintain a balance between demand and supply. Imbalances can be caused by the failure of a large power plant or large-scale over-production by intermittent energy sources like wind farms.

If an imbalance occurs, ancillary service providers like Next Kraftwerke receive a command from the TSO to increase or reduce output either immediately or within minutes of the command being issued (known as ‘minute and secondary control’). In the case of Next Kraftwerke’s virtual network, the command is received and acted on in real time by the ABB solution.

1,000 power producers

The solution enables Next Kraftwerke to manage more than 1,000 biogas, solar, wind and water plants that are located all over Germany and across all four of Germany’s power transmission grids. Together the plants produce up to 796 megawatts of clean carbon-free balancing power that is vital to grid stability.

Many of the plants are small biogas units that generate electricity from maize and agricultural waste materials. There are several thousand such plants in Germany, most of which are owned by rural municipalities and small private companies.

ABB based the solution on its OPTIMAX® PowerFit plant optimization software, which is part of ABB’s Symphony Plus platform of total plant automation systems for the power generation, water and process industries.

PowerFit provides dynamic optimization across a broad range of applications. These include internal optimization of multi-unit power plants, the optimization of heat and power production in combined heat and power plants, the intra-day optimization of municipal power production and consumption, and the real-time optimization of pools of renewable energy plants like Next Kraftwerke’s.

Rapid growth

Since installing the ABB solution in 2012, Next Kraftwerke has enjoyed rapid growth, and OPTIMAX PowerFit has enabled Next Kraftwerke to comfortably meet this growth. Starting with two redundant servers for 50 plants in 2012, the system now comprises seven servers with geographic redundancy and automatic backup/recovery for up to 1,500 plants.

As a result of its huge success in Germany, Next Kraftwerke is currently looking to expand into neighboring markets where there is good potential for its continued and rapid growth.

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