Synchronous condensers: How proven technology is set to enable the energy transition
Chris Evans | May 3, 2022 | 2 min read
As the world accelerates its efforts to decarbonize the energy sector, transmission and distribution networks are experiencing increasing instability stresses. More and more intermittent renewable energy sources are entering the grid, causing fluctuations that most countries’ networks are not sufficiently prepared for. At the same time, conventional large power generation which used to provide stable baseload electricity is decreasing in many countries, mostly driven by environmental and regulatory policy changes that demand the retirement of traditional thermal generating stations.
These challenges have an operational impact on the electrical infrastructure, creating an overall deficiency in system inertia, short circuit strength and reactive compensation support. They are increasing the risk of grid instability and sometimes hinder the addition of renewable energy. Investments in grid infrastructure and management are needed to ensure a continuously stable power supply and avoid frequency issues and even blackouts. More and more grid operators across Europe and the Middle East are stepping up to make these investments.
A recent example is the greenfield synchronous condenser project in Meppen, Germany, awarded by grid operator Amprion to Kraftanlagen Energies & Services GmbH, who are acting as the EPC contractor. For this project, GE Steam Power will deliver the core technical components of the synchronous condenser, consisting of two complete generator sets and auxiliary systems.
Project Manager, Amprion
The Meppen synchronous condenser project aims at supporting the stabilization of the northern part of Amprion’s 380-kilovolt AC power grid in case of disturbances. Furthermore, it allows to dynamically provide reactive power covering the increasing and volatile demand. My team and I are excited that GE is providing key technology for this ambitious project that plays an important role in Germany’s energy transition. And I was happy to hear from Florian Gehring, project manager at Amprion, that he values GE Steam Power as “a strong partner for this project, as their synchronous condenser technology has proven reliability.” The new project builds on a previous successful collaboration between Amprion and GE Steam Power for a similar project in Uchtelfangen commissioned in 2020.
Synchronous condensers represent a fully reliable and proven solution to address the stability requirements of the grid. They increase both the short circuit resilience of the grid and the inertia of the system and supply reactive power with a significant delta increase over the rated value. Basically being free spinning synchronous generators whose shaft is not connected to anything but the power transmission grid, they can easily adjust conditions on the grid, using the kinetic energy stored in the unit’s rotor.
Synchronous condensers offer some advantages over other grid stabilization solutions. FACTS devices such as static VAR compensators (SVCs) and STATCOMs are good at supplying reactive power quickly, but they are not helpful at handling low system inertia, as well as low short circuit strength in the power grid. Synchronous condensers can help meet these requirements, in addition to providing reactive power needs; moreover, their reactive current can even be increased as voltage decreases. All helping our grids to remain more stable.
GE has been delivering synchronous condensers for projects around the globe since the early days, using a combined modular component architecture that allows for reduced overall footprint, customized layout and maintenance flexibility for our customers to reduce operational downtime. Since a couple of years, GE Steam Power has also added low losses flywheel technology for a wide range of inertia to address new grid requirements.
With these advantages and their ability to provide grid stabilizing inertia at low cost, synchronous condensers are seeing a growing interest with the number of projects increasing year over year. Building on 100+ years heritage, synchronous condensers stand ready to help enable the next step of the energy transition.
Global Head of Product Management, GE Steam Power
Chris and his team of highly skilled & experienced experts are covering the Nuclear, Renewable, Fossil and Industrial platforms, driving growth through innovation and a clear focus on the changing needs of steam power customers as they navigate the energy transition. He is leading business development for new Synchronous Condensers and advanced SMRs (small modular reactors), driving the value that these technologies can provide to the energy industry as more intermittent sources enter the grid.
GE Steam Power is providing its Synchronous Condenser technology to Kraftanlagen Energies & Services GmbH who are building the greenfield SynCon station for grid operator Amprion.
As the grid evolves and the mix of electricity production sources changes, stresses are being put onto transmission and distribution networks, making the need for grid support much more challenging. Synchronous condensers can supply reactive power quickly, and handle low system inertia, as well as low short circuit strength in the power grid.
See how GE’s legacy in synchronous condensers helped Terna S.p.A provide electricity for 20 million people.Read more