Building storm resilience into the grid

Published: Thu 20 Mar 2014
A blog entry by S&C Electric GridTalk

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According to the Energy Networks Association, following the Boxing Day storms over 150,000 UK homes lost power.  Whilst the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) estimates that the UK needs a £110 billion energy infrastructure upgrade, currently many of the improvements involve more of the same.  State of the art technologies, like energy storage can in fact modernise our aging grid - making it storm-resilient, whilst future-proofing it to cope with rising power demand.

Traditionally, we have addressed rising demand by reinforcing the grid by deploying new transmission lines and transformers.  This method is costly - as copper and aluminium are used - and is impractical, as demand is continually evolving, meaning roads dug up to reinforce power lines, are commonplace.

The alternative is to place energy storage devices at key points throughout the grid, which store electricity at low periods of demand, which can then be released to help the grid cope with rising demand during peak hours.  Managing energy consumption patterns and dynamic supply inherently makes the whole network more resilient and responsive to fluctuations, while deferring or eliminating infrastructural changes and cabling expenditure.

Distributed energy storage offers another important benefit: it provides a local back-up power supply in the event the grid is damaged and power from central sources is disrupted.  When storm damage occurs, distributed energy storage enables electricity to be provided while utility crews repair damage to the grid.  
As well as improving grid resiliency, energy storage also greatly improves efficiency.  In fact, Imperial College found that the UK could make system savings of more than £10 billion per year by deploying 25 gigawatt of energy storage by 2050.

S&C Electric Europe recently announced a project to lead a cutting-edge trial of energy storage technology - Europe’s largest - to test new methods of capturing electricity for release over long periods, to even out the peaks and troughs of supply and demand.  When finished, the Samsung battery in UK Power Network’s Leighton Buzzard substation will have a 6 megawatt capacity, which is expected to save over £6 million on traditional network reinforcement methods, such as cabling and transformers.

Another effective way to increase grid resiliency is to intelligently automate power networks.  Advanced Distribution Automation (ADA) as it is known allows utilities to respond to emergency situations (such as storm blackouts) by automatically rerouting electricity around damaged sections of the power system to restore power to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

US utilities have been making grids smart for some time.  In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the local utility, EPB, used S&C to install the most automated network of its size in the U.S. (serving 170,000 customers).  When a major storm hit the city in 2012, the automated system reduced power outages by 55%.  Overall, according to the US Department Energy preventing outages (and the associated productivity losses) has an economic benefit for Chattanooga of up to $60 million annually.

Network operators face a major challenge in upgrading the grid in the face of increasing extreme weather events.  The key change is the grid needs to facilitate demand to meet supply, not supply to meet demand, as it does today.  Fortunately, the tools and expertise exist to increase demand by powering up energy storage devices when there’s a surplus, and then to reduce demand when energy supply is lower.  To achieve this we need to move beyond ‘make do and mend’ and embrace the smart grid.

Written by Andrew Jones

Originally published by The Daily Telegraph, Feb 2014

About Andrew Jones
As Managing Director of S&C Electric Europe, Andrew Jones is responsible for the strategy, direction and execution of activity in Europe. In 2008 he was integral in setting up the European business and has overall responsibility for building the business in these markets. Andrew Jones has exceptional technical knowledge in the energy sector, specializing in smart grid technology, and has published over 30 papers and he has been involved as a BEAMA, British Standard, CIGRE and IEC bodies.