Design of off-grid renewable energy community electrification projects: analysis of micro-scale resource variations and development of optimization methods

Projects relying on renewable energies are a suitable and sustainable option to electrify isolated communities autonomously. These systems produce electricity in a clean and environmentally respectful way and their cost is often lower than national grid extension.

Hybrid systems that combine different energy resources (wind and solar) and distribution through microgrids are the most efficient design configurations. When considering hybrid systems and microgrids, the design of rural electrification projects is referred to as the AVEREMS problem. The optimization of the AVEREMS problem is a complex task that requires the use of specific support tools. In this context, some shortcomings have been encountered in the current state-of-the-art in the design of off-grid electrification projects based on renewable energies, in specific: the lack of knowledge about detailed wind resource studies for this kind of projects and the need of procedures for solving the AVEREMS problem considering generation also far from the demand.

The main objective of this thesis is to tackle these limitations by means of: 1) defining a method for detailed wind resource assessment in rural electrification projects, 2) the development and 3) application of procedures to solve the AVEREMS problem considering micro-scale resource variations and generation in every point of a community (being a demand or a no-demand point). Firstly, a method for detailed wind resource assessment is presented relying on the use of micro-scale wind flow models: the method is validated in two mountainous communities and applied for the design of a real project in Cape Verde.

Then, different solving procedures are developed: first some indicators are proposed to
support algorithms’ design, and then two procedures (a deterministic heuristic and a metaheuristic algorithm) are presented in order to solve the AVEREMS problem. Different algorithm versions are analyzed in order to select the ones that give best results. The proposed algorithms, besides considering generation in every point of a certain area (being a demand or a no-demand point), enhance the performance of the currently available tools.

Finally, the design of a real electrification project in Nicaragua is carried out including a micro-scale wind resource assessment and the application of the developed metaheuristic procedure for design optimization. The wind resource assessment method and the solving procedures developed in this thesis
can be easily applied to support the design of off-grid rural electrification projects with renewable energies. Their utilization will improve projects efficiency and sustainability reducing some of the technical issues that still limit their implementation in isolated communities.

Thesis advisors:
Dr. Rafael Pastor Moreno
Dra. Laia Ferrer-Martí
Dr. Alberto García Villoria

Submitted to the Departament d’Organització d’Empreses in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.

Matteo Ranaboldo


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