FACTS of life: upside for STATCOMs & SVCs?

Upside for STATCOMs

Wind and solar have so far leaned upon conventional power grids. But larger deployments will increasingly need to produce their own reactive power; controllably, dynamically. Demand for STATCOMs & SVCs may thus rise 30x, to over $25-50bn pa. This 20-page note outlines upside for STATCOMs and who benefits?

This 20-page research note is about controlling reactive power in increasingly renewable-heavy grids. We believe this theme is going to become increasingly important, but it has been overlooked, for two reasons, laid out on pages 2-3.

What is reactive power? After reviewing hundreds of technical papers and patents, our ‘best explanation’ is set out on pages 4-7, to explain concepts such as real power, reactive power, power factor, power triangles, phase angle and VARs.

Lean on me. Wind and solar assets inherently produce no reactive power and may even have consumed it. This was fine in the early days, as renewables assets could rely on the large and controllable output of reactive power from spinning generators. But regulations are tightening. And if renewables are to dominate future grids, replacing spinning generators, then they will increasingly need to produce their own reactive power (page 8).

FACTS = Flexible AC Transmission Systems. We review different options for renewables to control reactive power on pages 9-14. The discussion covers switched capacitor banks, synchronous condensers, upsized inverters, Static VAR Compensators (SVCs) and Static Synchronous Compensators (STATCOMs). In each case, we review the costs ($/kVAR), advantages and challenges for each technology. We think STATCOMs are taking the lead to back up large wind projects.

Market sizing for STATCOMs and SVCs market suggests that a 30x ramp-up is not mathematically inconceivable. If wind capacity additions ramp from 100 GW pa to 300-500 GW pa, and we install 0.5 MVAR/MW of STATCOMs/SVCs at an average of $160/kVAR, then this would become a $25-50bn pa market. Huge numbers. Worked examples and quotes from technical papers are also given (page 15-16).

Who benefits? Leading companies in STATCOMs and SVCs are profiled on pages 17-20, after reviewing 2,500 patents. The market is incredibly concentrated, with two leading large-caps, and a handful of smaller and interesting semi-pure plays. Our screen is linked here.

To read more about the upside for STATCOMs & SVCs, please see our article here.

Capacitor banks: raising power factors?

Wind and solar power factor corrections

Wind and solar power factor corrections could save 0.5% of global electricity, with $20/ton CO2 abatement costs at typical facilities in normal times, and 30% pure IRRs during energy shortages. They will also be needed to integrate more new energies into power grids. This 17-page note outlines the opportunity in capacitor banks, their economics and leading companies.

Reactive power is needed to create magnetic fields within ‘inductive loads’ like motors, electric heat, IT hardware and LEDs. But it is wasteful. 0.8-0.9 x power factors mean that 10-20% of the flowing current is not doing any useful work; it is simply amplifying I2R resistive losses; and if it is not compensated, then voltage drops can de-stabilize the grid.

All of these statements might seem a little bit confusing. Hence, after reading hundreds of pages into this topic, our ‘best explanation’ of the physics, the problem and the solution are set out on pages 2-6 of the report. We would also recommend the excellent online videos from the Engineering Mindset.

Power factor correction technologies are seen accelerating for three reasons. Saving electricity is increasingly economic amidst energy shortages (pages 7-8).

Second, they will enable greater electrification for around 30% less capex (pages 9-11).

Third, the rise of renewables will see large rotating turbines (especially coal) replaced with distributed generators that inherently offer no reactive power (wind and solar). This is not a “problem”. It simply requires conscious power factor correction (pages 12-14).

What challenges? Capacitor banks are likely to be the lowest cost solution for power factor correction, but they are also competing with other technologies, as reviewed on page 15. For ultra-high quality grid-scale wind and solar power-factor corrections, we think there is greater upside in STATCOMs (note here).

What opportunities? Leading companies are profiled on pages 16-17, based on reviewing patents, and include the usual suspects in power-electronic capital goods.

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2022.