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Managing a sustainable energy strategy in an electrified world

Future-proofing energy infrastructure is business-critical as we transition to an electrified future. Simon Port, Head of Design and Engineering at Powerstar, explores the issue, and looks at the technologies that are helping to balance a resilient power supply with a sustainable strategy.

The energy transition is revolutionising the way we think of energy supply and demand, at a societal level and as businesses. As the country is increasingly electrified and moving away from fossil fuels, the energy mix has become more complex, and the risk of disruption to power supply – at the local level – grows.

How the energy system is changing

The Climate Change Committee has predicted a 50% rise in electricity demand by 2035. While this can be largely attributed to a rising global population, as well as the growing economies of developing countries, there are a whole myriad of reasons for growing electricity demand. 

Alongside growing electricity demand, the energy system is also changing. At the grid level, as renewables make up a greater percentage of power generation, the distributed nature of this power presents further challenges to the status quo. 

For instance, the National Grid was designed for centralised dispatch, but now the energy transition is seeing the growth of smaller-scale generation across distribution networks. 

Where large-scale power plants were connected to the high-voltage transmission network managed by National Grid, smaller-scale generation connects at the distribution network level, putting localised distribution under far greater pressure than it was designed to manage. 

That’s led to distribution network operators taking on more of the heavy lifting, balancing incoming and outgoing power, while also dealing with significant variations in supply and demand, which only increases the risk of disruptions. 

Options for working with a more complex energy system

As national power supply becomes decentralised, companies and organisations across the UK are looking to their own sustainability targets, and electrification is a vital element of a successful corporate decarbonisation strategy. Investment in on-site renewables – in solar and wind – and switching to EV fleets can significantly reduce carbon emissions. However, given the pressure on DNOs, any progressive corporate electrification plan may run into issues around grid constraints.

Bringing more electrical equipment on-site increases demand from the DNO, potentially taking it above your agreed supply capacity (ASC) – the maximum capacity the DNO must supply to your site. Exceeding your ASC can lead to excess capacity charges – significant surcharges on your energy bills. This can be circumvented by an application to the DNO to increase your ASC. While electricity bills will increase in line with increased usage, this resolves the expensive threat of excess capacity charges.

A second, and more problematic, issue comes about should you be close to the available capacity allowed by the DNO or should your proposed electrification/decarbonisation project take you to that point. And this impacts both where a site places additional demand, through increased electrification – and/or provides additional supply – specifically on-site power generated through on-site renewables. 

Both of these impact on the DNO’s resilience. If they deem that an application to increase capacity may impact on overall local distribution, the DNO may be forced to refuse it given their mandate to ensure secure supply across their whole network. This could block a project, outright. 

If, however, an application to increase capacity is allowable, there may well be a long lead-time to establish an additional, and expensive, connection. Even for large corporations, where the costs may not be prohibitive given the benefits, the wait times can be significant, to say the least. Plans to remove projects deemed ‘unrealistic’ from the waiting list have been met with legal objections. Along with an influx of around 80 projects applying for connections each month, last November The Telegraph reported a queue of 1,600 proposals, and waiting times as long as 13 years.

In this context, organisations need proven and effective solutions, and are increasingly investing in technologies that can help navigate these hurdles: to provide security to energy infrastructure planning; to ensure that decarbonisation strategies work; and to measure their impact in a rigorous manner.

Investing in on-site renewables is an obvious option for any company when first looking at sustainability, and research from the University of Liverpool backs up the business case for investment, establishing the stability of solar energy pricing when compared to fossil fuels. And renewable infrastructure is currently exempt from business rates until 2035. 

Securing your power supply

However, given that renewables are inherently inflexible – dependent upon weather conditions – investment in these assets is largely pointless without the capacity to intelligently manage the storage of energy generated and its usage. With a battery energy storage system (BESS), this becomes feasible.

A BESS will store energy generated on-site, as well as energy purchased from the grid – ideally, purchased at the lowest price, and producing the lowest emissions, for use when needed. 

To avoid the negative impacts of power disruptions from the grid, a BESS with an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) capability offers all the security of a traditional UPS system but with far lower operating costs and emissions: capable of protecting an entire site, rather than isolated pieces of equipment, with around 95% lower losses than the traditional solution. 

That’s why, for energy security, BESS technology offers significant benefits over traditional UPS. And, as part of an EV strategy, BESS technology can be vital in managing demands between the availability of power, DNO constraints, and real-time charging needs – this is a key component of EV fleet transition where organisations may not be aware of the energy infrastructure implications and how these may be overcome through BESS technology.

When combined and managed within a smart microgrid, on-site renewables and BESS technology can work together, paired with an advanced AI-driven energy management software, to protect your site and assets. But that’s just the beginning of the benefits, with the solutions also driving efficiency and cost reduction, which helps to identify areas for potential savings and assists with preventive maintenance scheduling. 

There are a multitude of reasons to consider a microgrid, such as: 

  • Using intelligent energy management software gives you a vital insight into energy usage, while the software can also manage multiple power flows across your site’s microgrid and automatically prioritise the assets and actions for optimum energy usage. 
  • Thanks to the growing use of machine learning and AI, this software can also facilitate real-time decision making and trend prediction which can enable the seamless switching between the use of centralised power and power generated on-site, depending on the most efficient option at the time. 
  • Detailed data relating to the grid, the company’s site, and assets on-site, provides the information to inform maintenance planning and to have a data-driven overview of possible failure points, providing the research to inform improvement strategies. Monitoring and reporting tools can inform strategic load planning, while also giving the data that is vital to informing sustainability strategies and reporting. 

The more technology and the more assets that can connect to a microgrid’s control software, the more it will learn, and the more intelligently it will function. AI-driven control, when combined with the right energy management technology, has the capacity to transform the way our energy systems work.

As electrification increases, we’re faced with a difficult balance – the demand for energy security alongside the imperative of emission reduction for a sustainable future. But these need not be competing agendas. Modern energy management technologies can help future-proof energy infrastructure with resilient power and a significant, measurable, and positive impact for your decarbonisation strategy.

Simon Port
Simon Port
Head of Design and Engineering at Powerstar

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