Press Release

The contributions of Chilean research to the planning of electrical transmission networks for the incorporation of renewable energies

Bnamericas Published: Wednesday, December 28, 2022

PRESS RELEASE of the Institute for Complex Engineering Systems
December 2022

(Machine translation of the original release, issued in Spanish)

How to plan the electricity transmission networks to integrate the renewable generation necessary to achieve the decarbonization goals? That was the question that guided Francisco Muñoz's research between 2009 and 2015 in the United States, and that has managed to transcend academic journals and permeate industry and regulatory bodies.

Francisco Muñoz, a researcher at the Instituto Sistemas Complejos de Ingeniería, ISCI , is a mechanical civil engineer from the University of Chile and has a PhD focused on energy economics and operations research from Johns Hopkins University. In his various roles as a researcher, academic, consultant and executive, both in Chile and in the US, he has made various contributions to both the planning and design of electricity markets.

One of his first research papers was to show that with the help of modern optimization tools it is possible to analyze the costs and benefits of millions of investment portfolios in new transmission lines automatically , instead of doing it manually, project by project. project, as is normally done in the industry. This methodology, developed in 2014, was applied to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, one of the largest electrical interconnections in the world, with more than 200,000 kilometers of transmission lines that cover 14 US states and some regions of Mexico and Canada.

In this methodology, Francisco incorporated the concept of proactive transmission planning , which had been previously developed by the Chilean Enzo Sauma, today a professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile . The principle of proactive or anticipatory transmission planning is closely related to the chicken or egg problem, associated with a coordination challenge between transmission and generation: just as it does not make economic sense to develop transmission projects (centrally planned) to places where there is no generation (developed based on competition between companies), it is not feasible to develop generation projects if there are no guarantees that there will be enough transmission to evacuate the energy to the consumption centers. For this reason, the methodology developed by Francisco recommends that in the analysis of costs and benefits of transmission projects, estimates of how new lines could affect the development of new generation projects should also be considered.

Previous work has influenced various electrical transmission planning processes. Among them, for example, the consultancies to improve the planning processes both in the Western Electricity Coordinating Council and in the Eastern Interconnection Planning Council, both in the US. The Brattle Group, one of the world's leading economic regulation consultancies, frequently cites these works as examples in many of its studies on transmission planning for mass renewable integration. In Chile, Francisco Muñoz contributed in 2016, together with a team made up of academics Enzo Sauma and Rodrigo Moreno, the latter is also an ISCI researcher, together with the SPEC consultancy, in the design of the Long-Term Energy Planning methodology. (PELP) of the Ministry of Energy. In this work, financed by the Inter-American Development Bank, several of the principles proposed by Francisco in his research were incorporated into the PELP. These are highly relevant in the identification of renewable development poles, taking the Renewable Energy Zones as an example, a concept that is used to prioritize the development of transmission in electrical systems in several countries.

As part of the previous work, other methodological contributions are added. For example, to solve transmission planning models and apply them to real electrical systems, with thousands of components, Francisco had to implement and refine methods to break large optimization problems into hundreds of smaller ones. These decomposition methods were implemented in the supercomputers of Sandia National Laboratories, in the state of New Mexico, where he worked from 2014 to 2015 on various projects for the US Department of Energy. Several of his developments are today part of a modeling and optimization software that is used in various universities and research laboratories around the world.

Transmission planning work for the integration of renewables was also applied in Europe, with a focus on electricity interconnections between neighboring countries. In 2018, together with a team of researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, he developed a methodology that makes it possible to structure electricity sales contracts between multiple countries, so that everyone has incentives to contribute. to the development of new interconnections. That same year, this work was awarded the EEX Excellence Award, a recognition given by the main trading platform for commodities and energy derivatives in Europe for high-impact research work in this area.

In addition to the numerous consultancy projects with international companies and organizations, which have allowed him to apply the developments of his research work, today he works directly on the challenges imposed by the profound process of technological transformation that the electrical industry is undergoing due to the entry of increasing levels of renewable generation and the fulfillment of decarbonization goals. Since April 2021, he has been Director of Studies for Generadoras de Chile , a union that groups electricity generation companies. Its main task is to contribute with technical rigor and a long-term vision in the public-private discussion on the promotion of the generation and reliable and sustainable use of energy in the country. Francisco carries out this work leading a team of analyzes and advisers, as well as developing studies and discussions on market design and electricity regulation, in interaction with representatives of generation companies and institutions such as the National Electricity Coordinator, the Ministry of Energy and the Commission National Energy. In addition to his executive role in the union, he continues to participate as a researcher at the Instituto Sistemas Complejos de Ingeniería and the Solar Energy Research Center.

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