Flexibility Hits the Headlines

[Written by Peter Bullock, Evergreen Smart Power]

National Grid’s need to keep the electricity network balanced rarely makes for a stimulating topic of conversation, but the recent once-in-a-decade power outages helped catapult it to the top of the news cycle.

National Grid is always prepared for one major electricity generator to fail – it happens from time to time – but when two generators went offline within minutes of each other the system couldn’t cope, and the Grid had to urgently pull power from hundreds of thousands of customers to prevent further issues.

At Evergreen Smart Power, we were able to track the issues through our “virtual power plant” and, through collating data from an ongoing trial, produce a graph of grid frequencies across the country (see below.)

There are lots of places that monitor frequency and can produce similar graphs. However, what makes this one particularly interesting is that it has been produced from electric car chargers and hot water heaters nestled in domestic properties across the country, showing how responding to the power outage can be done by ordinary people.

This graph tells a story…and we can see that:

  • It all started at 15:52:34, when a lightning strike caused a gas-fired steam turbine in Cambridgeshire and a wind farm in the North Sea to trip simultaneously; grid frequency plummets.
  • By 15:53 (within 30 seconds), grid provisions kick in: batteries discharge, generators boost power, and industrial facilities reduce demand, providing 1000 MW to stabilise the grid; frequency starts to rise.
  • At 15:53:31, another turbine at the Little Barford power station in Cambridgeshire trips, and no backup power is left to respond; frequency drops once more.
  • Finally, at 15:53:49, enforced power cuts are triggered to bring system back into balance; frequency climbs towards safety.

In these crucial minutes, large parts of England and Wales was left without electricity, passengers were shut out of some of the country’s busiest train stations, and hundreds of thousands of homes were left in darkness.

So how do we can avoid outages like this in future?

Demand Side Response (DSR) within domestic homes is one answer. DSR is an intervention by consumers to flexibly alter consumption patterns in real-time at times of stress on the main electricity system, or in response to network operator price signals. It can also be used to optimise use of renewable resources, for instance, by making sure electric vehicles charge quickly when there is a lot of wind or solar energy on the grid.

Industrial DSR is already reasonably well established, so we’re currently looking into the real-world potential of bringing this concept into consumers’ homes. We have teamed up with Tonik Energy, myenergi, Energy Systems Catapult and Swansea University to deliver ‘The Flexibly Responsive Energy Delivery’ project, otherwise known as FRED!

Over the course of 2019 and 2020 we will be working to demonstrate how Smart Power’s Virtual Power Plant (VPP) works with myenergi’s zappi and eddi devices to unlock flexibility in our energy system today.

We look forward to delivering results and outcomes in the not-too-distant future, but for now you can get more information on the project via SPECIFIC’s project page.

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