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UPS & POWER DISTRIBUTION So far, data centre operators have been reluctant to deploy their batteries for anything other than emergency backup

SMART THINKING — IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE Our increasing dependence on smart energy grids offers organisations the chance to turn an under-utilised asset into a valuable money-maker, according to Riello UPS General Manager, Leo Craig.


hile most of you will already be looking forward to what 2020 has in store, for those of us in the power continuity sector, it’s inevitable that the events of August 9th haven’t drifted too far away from our thoughts. For those in need of a reminder, that was the day when the country faced its biggest blackout for years. Two power plants disconnected from the grid, with the subsequent loss of nearly 1,500 MW of generation causing grid frequency to drop to unsafe levels. As a result, 5% of Britain had their electricity cut off (nearly one million customers) to protect the rest of the network from a bigger failure. Thankfully, power was restored within the hour. National Grid deployed 1,000 MW of reserves to bring the frequency back within range. In the aftermath, there were questions about whether the grid had enough backup power. But opinion was unanimous on the pivotal part battery storage had played in minimising the incident’s impact. Totalling 475 MW, it accounted for nearly half of our electricity system’s vital safety net. As the way we produce power continues on a zero-carbon route, such energy storage is likely to take on an increasingly important role in keeping the grid balanced.

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Rethinking the role of UPS systems

Evolving energy mix This year marks a watershed for energy in the UK. It’ll be the first time since the Industrial Revolution where low-carbon sources – renewables and nuclear – generate more electricity than coal and gas. In Q3 of 2019, renewables provided more electricity than fossil fuels (40% versus 39%) across a quarter for the first time. Records for coal-free periods of power generation have tumbled throughout the year. While by the end of June alone, the UK had totalled 1,838 hours of coal-free electricity. That’s more than the whole of 2018. All these trends paint a positive environmental picture, but they pose problems for the National Grid. By their nature, renewables are more unpredictable than coal or even nuclear. You can’t guarantee when the wind will blow! This makes balancing supply with demand and maintaining a stable grid frequency a tricky test. Decentralised, flexible smart grids harnessing the benefits of onsite generation and battery storage offer a solution to these challenges. These two-way networks enable energy consumers to become power generators too, while real-time adjustments and mechanisms – such as demand side response (DSR) – make sure supply meets need.

In the aftermath of this summer’s blackout, there were questions about whether the grid had enough backup power

Sometimes known as demand side management, DSR incentivises larger-scale electricity users to shift and/or reduce energy consumption to help ease pressures on the wider grid. In essence, it involves storing cheaper off-peak electricity and then using it instead of expensive peak mains supply. Organisations gain from lower energy bills and reduced tariffs. They can even earn additional revenues by ‘selling’ surplus power back into the grid. For energy-intensive facilities such as data centres, hospitals and manufacturing plants, DSR also offers an opportunity to transform an under-utilised asset into a valuable money-maker.

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