The move could allow Japan to spread the use of renewable energy and reduce electricity generation costs.
The type of system being developed is known as the virtual power plant (VPP), as many power equipment and batteries linked with each other under the system work as if they were a huge single power plant.
Backed by the government, power distributors and other firms, experiments are proceeding across the country to commercialize the futuristic technology.
Situated on the eastern coast of Lake Biwako, batteries installed in a factory of Sansha Electric Manufacturing Co.--an Osaka-based leading power supply device maker--have a total capacity of 200 kilowatts.
The storage cells in Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, are connected through the Internet with a research institute in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, which is operated by Kansai Electric Power Co.
In January, an experiment was conducted to examine if the research institute could send commands to the factory so it would discharge electricity to power cables from the batteries and recharge them with the cables.
“We will need to examine how many devices can be connected while maintaining the control capability,” said a Sansha official.
An additional test is scheduled for this autumn.
The series of experiments has been selected as one of the government-affiliated projects initiated by the economy ministry to establish the VPP technology in fiscal 2016.
Working with 13 businesses, including Sansha Electric Manufacturing, GS Yuasa Corp. and Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd., Kansai Electric is moving forward with trials to link power sources with a total output of 9 megawatts, a level comparable to 3,000 electric cars.
The ministry aims to establish a system consisting of storage cells that will have a total capacity of 50 megawatts for adjusting the power supply according to demand by 2020.
Under the ministry’s plan, the VPP system is expected to become capable of controlling 13.2 gigawatts of electricity by 2030. The figure is comparable to the total output of 13 thermal power plants.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) is also working with NEC Corp., Sekisui Chemical Co. and other businesses to commercialize the technology.
Behind the aggressive efforts by the government and major power companies to establish the VPP technology is the fact that use of renewable energy for electricity production has spread in Japan since the nuclear crisis at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The amount of solar energy-derived electricity traded under the government feed-in tariff system for clean energy rose 13-fold by fiscal 2016 from five years ago.
Power distributors have to control their power supply according to demand in principle, and the imbalance between supply and demand could lead to large-scale power failures.
Output of photovoltaic power stations and wind power facilities drastically fluctuates, depending on weather conditions, so a challenge facing power providers is how to deal with the changes in electricity production.
Major power firms adjust their supply primarily by controlling operations of their thermal power plants. But some cases have been reported where solar power station operators were asked to stop producing electricity, when major power companies could not accept all the supplied solar power.
VPP systems are believed to make it possible for power providers to deal with the fluctuations in output without using huge power generating facilities.
As the technology will also make it easier to introduce renewable energy, a senior Kansai Electric official welcomed the VPP by saying, “Costs for maintaining old thermal power stations will be reduced.”
Reduced expenses for power generation could result in lower electricity rates, so people hold high expectations for the technology as well.
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