Electrical Contracting News (ECN): Opportunities Offered By Smart Energy Grids

Why our increasing reliance on smart energy grids offers opportunities for organisations to turn their UPS from an underutilised asset into a money-maker.

Battery storage played a huge role in limiting the disruption caused by the 9 August blackout. Nearly half of National Grid’s 1 GW of reserve power came from large-scale battery systems (475 MW).

This enabled frequency to be quickly restored to safe levels after the failure that saw nearly one million people cut off.

Looking ahead to 2020, we speak to Electrical Contracting News and explore what role electricity storage will have as we transition to smart energy grids.

Adapting To A Zero-Carbon Future

2019 is a watershed for UK power generation. It’s the first year since the Industrial Revolution where low-carbon sources (renewables and nuclear) produce more electricity than fossil fuels like coal and gas.

This is great from an environmental perspective but poses problems for National Grid.

Rising reliance on unpredictable renewables makes it harder to balance supply and demand and keep frequency stable.

That’s why smart energy grids are increasingly seen as the answer. By harnessing onsite power generation with battery storage, sophisticated communications and data analysis, and mechanisms such as demand side response, the power network of the future will adapt in real-time to

This new way of working relies on electricity users adapting – or even reducing – consumption to ease pressures on the entire grid.

In practice, this saves cheap off-peak power that is used as an alternative to peak mains supply.

Tapping Into Backup Power Reserves

This emphasis on demand side response offers an opportunity for large-scale electricity users such as data centres, manufacturing and processing plants, and hospitals.

Turn their uninterruptible power supplies from a reactive, underutilised yet necessary asset into something that’s truly working 24/7.

As we explain, this involves smart grid-ready UPS backed with either lithium-ion or premium sealed lead-acid batteries and sophisticated monitoring systems.

Not only can organisations taking part in DSR benefit from lower electricity bills, reduced tariffs and the chance to earn payments for surplus electricity, they won’t have to compromise their system resilience.

Battery failure is one of the most common problems with a UPS. If you’re using SLA cells and haven’t got expensive battery management systems, can you ever be sure that they’ll always work when you need them?

But because smart energy grid UPS batteries are constantly monitored at the individual cell level, any signs of damage or deterioration are identified.

Problematic cells can be replaced. And you have greater confidence that the batteries are in top condition when they’re actually called upon.

Future Energy Needs

National Grid already spends £170 million a year on DSR scheme Frequency Response, which aims to ensure a balanced grid frequency.

Its own report into August’s power outage, plus a separate investigation by the Energy Emergencies Executive Committee (E3C), called into question whether reserve capacity was high enough.

In all likelihood, a more distributed electricity network is going to need a bigger contingency in case smaller scale generators experience difficulties and disconnect from the grid.