Making the case for Smarter Network Storage

By Nick Heyward, Project Director Future Networks, UK Power Networks

As demand for electricity grows, the pressure on the UK’s electricity networks continues to increase, and the need for the industry to innovate becomes more and more acute.

We are already seeing new requirements placed on our networks by local generation from wind and solar technologies; and in the near future, as electric vehicles and heat pumps become more widespread, the overall load on both transmission and distribution networks is predicted to rise significantly.

This is the context for UK Power Networks’ Smarter Network Storage project. By harnessing the latest technologies to store up to 10MWh of energy and discharge it as and when required, the new facility that we’re building at Leighton Buzzard will help to address some of the key challenges that the National Grid and distribution network operators (DNOs) will face in the years ahead.

For example, from a DNO’s point of view, Smarter Network Storage can provide an alternative source of electricity to maintain security of supply during periods of high demand on the distribution network in the local area. This avoids the need to invest capital in costly network upgrades, and can be an alternative to strategies such as “demand response”, where large consumers such as supermarkets are paid to reduce their consumption until the peak demand period passes.

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There are benefits for transmission network operators too. In the UK, the National Grid is responsible for balancing the electricity supply against demand. To counteract peaks and troughs and maintain a stable 50 Hz frequency throughout the network, it needs to make real-time adjustments to the output of its power stations. If a problem occurs – such as a gas turbine going offline – Smarter Network Storage can react in milliseconds by discharging electricity into the grid, effectively acting as a virtual power station and helping to maintain a steady frequency until the fault can be fixed, or other reserve supplies come online.

As the project moves forward, we are pushing the technical, commercial and regulatory boundaries. It’s not just a question of building the facility itself; we also need to work with Ofgem and our project partners to define the business models, regulations and governance frameworks around this first-of-its-kind project. What types of company should be responsible for building, owning and operating storage facilities? How will they generate revenue? What are the risks, and who should own them?

Recently, we’ve published a consultation that compares a number of different possible commercial models for Smarter Network Storage installations, and suggests that there are two viable options. The first is that DNOs will be responsible for building and operating storage facilities to support their own networks, and will receive fees from other parties as and when they want to utilise those facilities. The second is that DNOs will offer long-term contracts to encourage third parties to build and operate storage independently.

Whichever model ultimately suits the best interests of all the stakeholders, the Smarter Network Storage project will explore both the commercial and technical benefits of investing in new storage technologies. And in a wider sense, the project shows our commitment to supporting innovation that benefits our business, our industry partners, and most importantly our customers.

The consultation can be downloaded from the UK Power Networks website below, and comments are encouraged through to the end of September 2013.

AMT-SYBEX’s Affinity Suite has been chosen by UK Power Networks to deliver the optimisation and control platform at the centre of the utility company’s Smarter Network Storage project, which has been awarded £13.2 million of funding from the Low Carbon Network Fund. The ground-breaking project is one of the next steps towards the Smarter Grid.

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