Energy storage and flexibility: key to resilience in uncertain times?


While a UPS is sufficient to deal with short-term power failures, the installation of a behind-meter-battery could deliver far greater value to mission critical facilities, argues GridBeyond’s Michael Phelan. He tells MCP how sites can increase resilience and generate revenues…

In the days following the August blackout, National Grid described the outage as a “rare and unusual event”. This has raised an important question about the resilience of our networks during the transition towards a fully decarbonised grid by 2025. 

GridBeyond chief executive Michael Phelan explains: “As our grid becomes progressively decarbonised and ever more decentralised, large energy users – and especially those for whom 100% uptime is a must – should take more responsibility for their energy efficiency and resilience. 

“By participating in grid balancing programmes, businesses support National Grid not only by taking control of their energy demand and sustainability, but helping to digitalise the network and ultimately mitigating future power-cuts.” 

Towards net zero

The increased level of renewables and low carbon sources, and a reduction in coal-fired power stations, affects the inertia on the energy network. In the context of power production, inertia is the ability to carry on long enough after a fault occurs for the system to rectify the imbalance by increasing power output or reducing demand. Inertia, required to protect the increasingly decarbonised network, can come, for example, from fast-acting batteries. 

National Grid explained that “following the event, the other generators on the network responded to the loss by increasing their output as expected. However, due to the scale of large generation losses, this was not sufficient, and to protect the network and ensure restoration to normal operation could be completed as quickly as possible, a backup protection system was triggered which disconnects selected demand across GB.”

It is important to note that in the aftermath of the blackout, multiple energy experts stated that there is no reason to believe that wind farms or other renewable generators are in any way more likely than traditional energy sources to disconnect from the grid. 

Phelan believes that the recent power failure will help to shape future policy and programmes for frequency management: 

“The energy transition is the way forward but how to achieve the net-zero economy requires careful consideration. 

“Regardless of the exact cause of the outage, one thing is certain: the UK needs more investment in grid balancing and battery technologies if a 2050 net-zero target is to be achieved.”

Boosting resilience

It is widely understood that installation of additional grid-scale battery projects increases inertia and network resilience, and helps to mitigate blackouts. Grid-connected energy storage has proven to be an effective solution in Australia, which like the UK is an island network. After a major blackout in 2016, Tesla installed a record breaking 100MW/129MWh of lithium-ion batteries to help protect the network in the event of any future power issues. 

Michael Phelan, GridBeyond

“The purpose of this battery was specifically to defend the power grid from trips like this after outages in the summer of 2016,” wrote the news site, Electrek. “When the Victoria power plant tripped [in 2017], the power grid’s frequency began to drop – from 50Hz to below 49.80Hz. The battery responded before the original power plant completed its disconnection from the grid.”

The interest in energy storage projects is growing in the UK, as not only experts but now politicians start to see them as a necessity. In his first speech as prime minister, Boris Johnson praised the UK’s battery manufacturing industry, pledging his strong support for energy technology projects. 

However, as noted by experts, so far the promises are not being followed by adequate actions, and there is a strong need for policy changes and significant increase in investments. 

As National Grid works out how best to manage generation loss situations in the future, and while we wait for more battery projects to take off, businesses – and in particular those whose core business requires 100% uptime – should take resilience into their own hands with behind the meter battery installations.

Protecting power

“Last month’s blackout tested the contingency strategy of critical power sites. The vast majority of them avoided disruptions, thanks to onsite generators and batteries that dispatched in response to the power cut,” says Phelan. 

In most cases, a UPS is sufficient to deal with short-term power failures. However, the installation of a behind-meter-battery that works in harmony with onsite assets delivers far greater value to the organisation. 

GridBeyond, a leading demand response and energy services provider, has developed an intelligent energy platform called Point. The technology enables businesses to access the hybrid battery and demand network – a solution that combines industrial energy consuming assets with commercial batteries. The network significantly boosts assets and sites’ flexibility, increasing robustness and ensuring resilience against any issues on the grid network.

“The unlocked flexibility can be further used to participate in grid balancing services, generating revenues and savings, boosting businesses’ environmental credentials and supporting National Grid with decarbonisation and digitalisation,” explains Phelan. 

“At the same time, the Point platform monitors energy assets on the site for any inconsistences and malfunctions. If an issue is detected, the predictive maintenance alert is triggered, helping to prolong equipment’s life cycle and securing businesses operational continuity.”

GridBeyond works with a number of critical power sites, both in the UK and Ireland, including Irish Water, Northern Ireland Water and NHS Royal Devon and Exeter. 

Jane Mellor, head of operational procurement at Northern Ireland Water, says: “We consider sustainability and climate change mitigation through decarbonisation as priorities that inform our decisions on the future direction of the business. As such, we are committed to using innovative approaches to energy management and new technologies to deliver water and wastewater services for the lowest environmental cost.

 “By working with GridBeyond, NI Water is demonstrating a continuing commitment to delivering high-quality services, while simultaneously enhancing natural and social capital.”



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