Quality, efficiency, and sustainability: envisaging a new approach to demand side response across the UK’s power networks (Guest blog by Vysiion Limited)
It’s a challenging time for the UK’s utilities sector. Homes and businesses’ power requirements are at an all-time high, while a nascent energy crisis and growing demand for more sustainable, environmentally friendly energy. Energy providers are now challenged to meet all these requirements at once – a ‘best of all worlds’ approach – which means legacy infrastructure and well-established processes are beginning to show their limitations.
In light of this, if the UK’s energy sector is to provide a steady hand in these turbulent times, a new approach to demand side response – the process of tailoring the delivery of power based on time- and region-based demand – is required.
Minimising waste while optimising availability
Fortunately, the utilities sector has already been moving in the right direction for some years now. The UK’s CNI already has robust systems in place to optimise the deployment of resources across the country, ensuring power is delivered where and when it is required, while maintaining the flexibility to accommodate unexpected spikes in demand, and no need to flood the network (i.e. leaving all systems running all of the time) to guarantee availability – a costly, inefficient approach that results in excess power transferring to heat and dramatically worsening the sector’s environmental impact.
In practice, this has typically involved manually turning systems on and off, based on when they are most likely to be required. This has proven effective for the most part, but in the current economic environment, there is still work to be done to ensure the patterning used to determine when systems must be turned on and off is as accurate as possible.
So, how can the sector build on these early successes and adopt a more intelligent approach to demand side response?
Data drives better decision making, which drives positive change
Put simply, good data is the key to good decision making. In the context of delivering power, this means suppliers must be able to achieve real-time, cross-site communication, at all levels of the stack, not just the top, as is often the case with legacy infrastructure. Traditionally, communication between the critical sites that will cause whole regions to lose power if they go down has been strong, but less so at the micro levels – for example, individual streets or properties. The first time the right teams will hear about faults at this level is typically when a customer calls to report them.
However, the tide is beginning to turn, and energy suppliers are increasingly looking for ways to achieve a micro and macro view of all sites in which they are active, real-time performance metrics and automated reporting of any faults. Auto reclosers offer a semi-mechanical solution to this requirement, allowing for automatic reporting of any faults. But at the same time, with the growing demand for power, suppliers must be able to view exactly how much power is being drawn, when it is being drawn, and where, which means this new breed of connected infrastructure cannot just focus on sending out alerts when something goes wrong, as important as that is.
It's no surprise that smart technology’s adoption is increasing in speed, with demand currently outstripping the grid’s capabilities. While many customers will view metering purely in terms of billing, the deployment of smart meters will provide energy suppliers with a holistic, real-time view of all power consumption, enabling true intelligent demand-side response. With those channels of data in place, it is relatively straightforward to automate processes at sub-stations, so circuits can be turned on and off as required, without an engineer needing to get involved. However, the devices currently used for this purpose at sub-stations are typically too costly to be scalable at the level currently required by the utilities sector.
5G IoT connectivity will provide the answer here, and will also allow for more effective processing at the edge that can then be fed back to the core, for even more control and visibility. 5G solutions specifically for the utilities sector are currently being trialled and will be the key that opens the door to a new era of data-driven decision making, which means suppliers must begin preparing to store the high volumes of data that they will need to collate and analyse in the years ahead, which will require a highly secure, sovereign approach to storage.
There’s no doubt that there are challenges ahead, in terms of people and processes, as well as technology. But the opportunities are tremendous. As more and more data is generated by the citizens and organisations who consume power on a daily basis, if suppliers and their technology partners work in concert to ensure this cannot only be securely collated, but used to develop a more dynamic, agile approach to delivering power across the UK, ensuring that citizens can readily access it whenever it is needed, and that the sector as a whole can make a tangible contribution to the nation’s environmental goals.
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