National Grid control room

We’ve all heard the story about the massive surge in electricity demand created when EastEnders comes to an end and the nation switches on its kettles for a cuppa.  But just like the way we watch TV is changing with the development of on-demand services, the power system that powers our kettles and TVs is going through a massive transformation itself.

Currently, the National Grid is a system of large centralised coal, gas and nuclear power stations but, with the need to close polluting plants and many nuclear stations coming to the end of their lifetime combined with a big increase in renewables, we are starting to move to a system with far more decentralised generation.

There has been a rapid growth in capacity from solar and wind, which provides variable or intermittent output. Patterns of electricity consumption will also significantly change as heating and transport start to be electrified.

You now can’t talk about the UK power sector without the word ‘flexibility’ being mentioned.  In the last budget the Treasury accepted the recommendations of a new report by the National Infrastructure Commission on how to support the development of a “smart power” system.

The report promotes the use of technologies such as country interconnectors, storage, and demand response to create a smarter, greener, cheaper and - we would argue - more resilient power system.

The changing patterns in both the demand and supply of electricity are putting the power grid under ever increasing stress, making it more challenging to control peaks and troughs in demand, manage intermittent and dispersed forms of generation and ensure that there is sufficient flexibility in the system to balance demand and supply and keep the lights on.

In order to address this, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and National Grid have developed a number of tools to ensure that there is sufficient capacity and flexibility in the system, such as the Capacity Market, Supplementary Balancing Reserve, Frequency Response or Short Term Operating Reserve.

The problem is that they may be causing a ‘perverse incentive’ in that recent capacity market auctions have resulted in a significant increase in diesel “peaking plants” and these generators emit high levels of pollutants. What we really don’t want to see happen is renewables inadvertently causing these kinds of ‘dirty’ generators coming on-line.

Fortunately for us, there are several alternatives which can provide “clean flexibility” in the power system – such as Demand Side Response (DSR), storage, and power interconnectors.

These technologies can lead to significant cost savings across the power system by reducing the need to build extra generation capacity and grid network reinforcements. They can also reduce carbon emissions and air pollution by displacing the use of diesel, gas and coal power stations.

So at this year’s Ashden Awards you will be able to see some of the best in class who are rising to this enormous challenge.  Our ‘smart energy’ finalists include:

Moixa who have developed the Maslow, a household energy storage system that is integrated with their GridShare smart demand management service.  It allows households to store the energy they generate during the day and make the most of it during the evening, whilst the GridShare service connects individual systems to create a “virtual power plant” with the potential to provide grid balancing services.

Tempus Energy enables its customers to provide demand flexibility services, but unlike other aggregators it does not sell them to the National Grid. Instead, it uses them to trade flexibly on electricity markets, cutting costs for customers, reducing the need for peaking fossil fuel generation and reducing congestion on the network.

Open Energi provides its Dynamic Demand service to commercial customers across the country, allowing them to provide flexible demand response to the National Grid under the Firm Frequency Response market. Open Energi’s technology identifies customers’ electrical loads that can be temporarily turned up or down in response to changes in frequency to the grid.  If the frequency rises or falls, their demand responds automatically in less than two seconds.

Find out more about all of this year’s UK finalists.  Tickets to attend the 2016 Ashden Awards Ceremony on Thursday 9 June are available here.