Buildings Can Help Regulate Grid Frequency, Boost Renewables Use
Large buildings may be the latest tool for utility operators if they want to draw more electricity from renewable sources while operating the power grid at a consistent frequency.
“Power grid operators must work around the clock to keep the frequency of electricity flowing across the grid within a narrow range, in order to prevent damage to electrical equipment and keep lighting from flickering,” Jenkins explains. “These efforts are strained by the growing use of wind and solar power, whose rapid changes in output can cause unwanted fluctuations.”
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But simulations conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggest the variable-speed motors that power heating and cooling systems in larger commercial and residential buildings “can be rapidly modulated in response to signals from grid operators,” helping to match demand to supply. The approach has no impact on occupant comfort, since the buildings themselves function as “big thermal batteries” that store heat or cold in walls, floors, ceilings, and indoor air.
“That thermal storage buffer gives buildings the ability to vary heating and cooling output to help regulate the grid,” Jenkins writes.