If you think it’s tough for utilities to balance electricity supply and demand now, just you wait, says National Grid.
According to a new report from the energy firm, operating the UK’s electricity system is set to become even more complex in coming decades as large amounts of variable wind generation and much larger nuclear power stations connect to the networks.
However, the report notes, those challenges can be met. The document shows that extra back-up generation is not the only way to manage wind intermittency and larger nuclear plants, painting a possible vision of the future where new technology plays a strong role, and where consumers have a much more active involvement in the energy market.
Among those possible technologies:
- Smart meters and smart grids, which could allow electricity demand to be more actively managed;
- A balancing tool that could help fridges in homes and supermarket turn on and off at the right times; and
- Electric vehicles, which could be a benefit and not a burden to the network, providing another bloc of demand that can be encouraged to move to the most helpful times of the day.
Energy storage technologies could also play a much larger role, according to the report. New battery technologies and supercapacitors could make it easier to store bulk quantities of electricity. Other new technologies could allow the storage of energy that can quickly be converted into electricity by turning a turbine — for example, by using large flywheels or compressed air.
“This most comprehensive view yet of how Britain could balance electricity supply and demand in the future moves the debate firmly beyond the simplistic view that we just need more back-up generation,” said Chris Bennett, National Grid’s future transmission networks manager. “It paints a fascinating picture of how different the way we operate the system could be in coming years, and is a key step in ensuring that the industry is prepared.”
“All too often, the variability associated with renewables is used as an excuse for inaction,” said Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK. “This report shows that high levels of renewable energy can easily be incorporated into the grid, making it far easier for the UK to meet the emissions reduction targets set out in the landmark Climate Change Act.”
“This report shows that large quantities of wind power can be integrated into our grid without the lights going out and at reasonable cost,” said Maria McCaffery, CEO of the British Wind Energy Association. “It knocks on the head the myth that large amounts of capacity of ‘hot’ standby is the only way to deal with the variability of wind.”