Research Series on VRES and grid interconnection in South America
A new series of studies, conducted by Enel Foundation in cooperation with the leading consulting company CESI, is looking at different scenarios for the development of Variable Renewable Energy Sources (VRES), particularly solar and wind, in South America. The series is articulated in different geographical clusters and identifies optimal technical and economical levels of penetration of green energy sources considering their impact on the electricity transmission and distribution grids.
South America is endowed with outstanding renewable energy sources (RES), including wind and solar. The continuing decrease of upfront investment costs makes power production from these sources more and more competitive with respect to conventional generation from fossil fuels. In addition, the need to fulfil the Paris Agreement, to which South American countries are committed, further enhances the superiority of green technologies against conventional generation, as the costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for. Not to mention other environmental benefits due to improved air quality, thanks to avoided emissions such as particulates, sulfur and nitrogen oxides.
But as Wind and Solar power plants are built where resources are available, often in remote areas, the energy produced has to be transported through power grids to where the consumers need it. This is why possible tensions in the system and grid bottlenecks need to be addressed, in order to allow countries to fully deploy the economic potential of green energy. Grid interconnections must avoid operating conditions requiring production curtailment for security reasons, such as:
- overloads due to insufficient power transfer capability,
- impossibility to balance the system due to the inflexibility of the conventional generation,
- poor voltage profiles,
- risk of cascading effects following an outage of a grid component or a generating unit.
The capability of the grid to handle securely the electricity generated from variable sources such as wind and solar can thus be enhanced by exploiting existing interregional or cross-border interconnections, reinforcing the existing ones and building new cross-border corridors.
Within this context, this new series of studies aims at examining the optimal technical-economic penetration of Variable Renewable Energy Source (VRES) generation – namely wind and solar – in a specific set of South American countries, accounting for the possible cross border power exchanges.
The studies cover the following main research questions for the different geographical clusters:
- What is the optimal penetration of VRES generation within a country considering the technical constraints in system operation while minimising the production costs?
- To what extent reinforcing the transmission grid can help enhance the deployment of VRES generation within a country and between interconnected countries?
The analysis is performed for the target year 2030 and starts from a given set of thermal/hydro generation that includes the already existing plants, the ones under construction and the planned ones which are expected be built before the target year. As transmission grid interconnection with neighboring countries can be an effective way to mitigate technical constraints in system operation and minimize the production cost, the studies can help policy-makers bring their countries towards a more sustainable development pattern.
Thanks to probabilistic simulations performed with a software widely used by transmission system operators, the expected yearly operation of the systems is evaluated considering operational constraints and production costs, thus enabling the calculation of possible benefits for the systems. The results are first presented for each country considered as isolated from the others. Subsequently, benefits and variations in the optimal VRES configuration due to the possibility to have energy exchanges between countries are assessed.
This first report is focused on Chile and Argentina (Cluster 1), the second one is focused on Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay (Cluster 2), whereas the third one is focused on Colombia, Peru and Ecuador (Cluster 3). Finally, there is a continental report featuring the main findings across the three geographical clusters including all the above-mentioned countries (Continental Cluster).
Furthermore, with reference to the first cluster covering Chile and Argentina, three topics have been investigated which deserve dedicated evaluations for a more complete assessment of the benefits deriving from a stronger interconnection capacity at 2030: deep-dives on resilience, cross-border sharing of resources and active participation of VRES in the ancillary service market.
In parallel, we investigated the effects of COVID-19 in Latin America, highlighting how policies, regulations and investments in renewables and grid infrastructure are key to recover from the pandemic.
Want to know more? Visit the geographical cluster reporting pages: