The IOT technology meeting the UK’s grid balancing needs faster than a power station

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 In IoT

Chris Kimmett, Commercial Manager, Open Energi

It’s a well reported fact that electricity margins are tighter than they have been for a number of years and, as we move towards winter, talk will increasingly turn to the need to balance energy supply and demand in order to mitigate the risk of power black outs in the UK.

Almost all of the UK’s grid balancing has traditionally been done by coal and gas. But the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive has limited running hours at a number of plants and in the past twelve months both Longannet and Eggborough power stations, which currently provide around 5% of the UK’s capacity, have announced they will be closing their doors in 2016.

Add to this the solar and wind explosion – by the end of 2015 experts predict the UK will have 10GW of solar power, a benchmark most thought wouldn’t be reached until 2020, and by 2020 National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios indicate that small-scale, distributed generation will represent a third of total capacity in the UK. This considered, we see that tomorrow’s electricity landscape will look very different to that of today.

The transformation of the energy system away from centralised generation to small-scale, distributed power means that speed of response to changes in energy supply and demand will be more important than ever.

Indeed, while most people are focusing on the tight capacity margin between supply and demand, the real blackout threat could come from generators being unable to respond within the required window to balance instantaneous shifts on the grid.

For more than 12 months, energy data analysts at EnAppSys have been monitoring grid frequency and analysing large deviations which, if not managed, can lead to instability. EnAppSys’ director Paul Verrill says that while we need to ensure the system has sufficient supply to meet demand, the real risk of blackouts could come from this second issue that often falls under the radar: a lack of capacity able to deliver additional power within the required timeframe.

Grid agility and flexibility will be essential as we move away from models of centrally dispatched generation, and National Grid, via its Power Responsive campaign, has already asserted that demand side response (DSR) will play an increasingly vital role in building a resilient, sustainable and affordable electricity system for the future.

This is especially pertinent given the results of new research by Open Energi, National Grid and Cardiff University, which suggests that smart demand side response (DSR) technology can meet the UK’s crucial grid balancing requirements faster than a conventional power station.

The latest research paper, which forms part of the ongoing collaborative research programme between Open Energi, National Grid and Cardiff University, titled Power System Frequency Response from the Control of Bitumen Tanks, looks at the feasibility of DSR to provide a significant share of frequency balancing services.

To test the scale of the opportunity for industrial heating loads to provide frequency response to the power system, bitumen tanks (which contain the glue that binds our roads together) equipped with Dynamic Demand technology were tested in combination with National Grid’s model of the GB transmission system.

Dynamic Demand deployed at scale is able to contribute to the grid frequency control in a manner similar to, and, crucially, faster than that provided by traditional peaking power generation – not to mention more cleanly and cheaply.

Field tests showed that full response could be provided in less than two seconds, as compared to 5 – 10 seconds for a thermal generator. Large scale deployment of Dynamic Demand will reduce the reliance on frequency-sensitive generators and ensure that the grid stays balanced in a cost-effective, sustainable and secure manner.

The research simulations help to shape National Grid’s understanding of DSR as a replacement for frequency-sensitive generation and will be used when they are planning their requirements for grid network operation in the future – with huge impacts on the future of our energy mix.

When launching Power Responsive, National Grid CEO Steve Holliday said: “The move to a low carbon economy coupled with rapid advances in technology and innovation are transforming our electricity supply. But supply is only half the story. The challenge now is to exploit new opportunities to radically evolve our energy system by changing the way we use electricity.”

And this is why the research findings are so significant.

With more renewables and decreased thermal generation, ‘inertia’ on the Grid will decrease, making frequency more unstable. To counteract this effect we need faster response, so by rolling out Dynamic Demand today we are future proofing the Grid.

With their new Power Responsive campaign, National Grid has recognised the need for a new source of flexibility and have stated they are committed to scaling the smart DSR industry.

Demand side response is intelligent energy usage. By knowing when to increase, decrease or shift their electricity consumption, businesses and consumers will save on total energy costs and can reduce their carbon footprints. It is the smart way to create new and efficient patterns of demand.

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