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Load management technology crucial for Britain’s energy future

In July 2022, West London was struck with a proposed ban on building new homes due to dwindling grid capacity However, the energy grid’s challenge is not wholly a capacity issue, a lack of technology also plays a part. Here, I explain why the UK must embrace energy grid technology to sustain the nation’s growing energy needs.

A significant drain of energy in these three West London boroughs is somewhat caused by the large number of data centres in a nearby area. Several have been constructed in recent years, using fibre optic cables that run along the M4 corridor to transmit data to and from North America via the Atlantic. While there is no doubt the scale of energy consumption from these facilities is colossal, the question of where energy is being used is actually irrelevant. The real consideration should be how load consumption on the grid is being managed.

Load management 

Load consumption simply describes the way in which energy is being used on the grid. Load management describes the active control of this consumption, and is sometimes referred to as demand side management (DSM). Load management is an essential component of any smart grid, but the technology is not always in place to oversee this effectively. 

In an area like West London where energy consumption is high, load management should be able to use sophisticated energy calculations to optimise consumption. In an area with a large number of data centres, for instance, this technology could analyse historical energy consumption data from these facilities to estimate when energy use will be high, allowing operators to act accordingly. 

To facilitate this, the grid needs to invest in technology capable of analysing the huge volumes of data produced across it. Industrial energy software, zenon, from COPA-DATA offers a dedicated zenon Load Management service to collect, analyse and visualise this data for a grid operator. 

Crucially, the zenon software platform is deployable across number of drivers, and supports the energy standards IEC 60870, IEC 61850 and DNP3. As a result, a wide range of data sets can be included within the scope of the platform. 

Software-based load management 

Once this data has been analysed and visualised effectively, it can inform a number of energy saving strategies. This includes load shifting, the of moving energy consumption from peak to off-peak hours to ensure consumption is either precipitated or postponed. Load shifting, which sees load reduction performed in peak hours through direct control of customer loads, or valley filling, where the energy load is increased in response to either high production or low consumption. 

Achieving this is not possible without oversight of energy consumption across the grid and this requires investment in effective energy grid software. This technology is essential for the energy grids of the future. to manage the nation’s growing demand for power. 

The proposed ban on building new homes in West London is set to last until 2035, when the Greater London Authority (GLA) believe grid capacity could realistically be increased. However, waiting until 2035 simply isn’t feasible or necessary. We have the technology — and importantly, the energy — to deliver this today.

BESS for renewables

Another area of concern is the lack of investment into battery energy storage systems (BESS). A significant percentage of renewable energy generated in the UK is wasted due to inadequate storage. Between 2015 and 2021, the country lost 13 per cent of total wind power and between 2020 and 2021, £806 million of all renewable energy was lost. The so-called lack of capacity on the energy grid is not a production problem, but an investment problem.  

In instances like West London, a large scale BESS can help to cover demand without creating the need to reinforce or rebuild powerlines. These facilities can be located at strategic sites in the grid to create virtual powerlines — a method to describe transferring energy from generation to BESS during low-demand periods to build a pool of electrical energy closer to the user‘s location. In combination with effective load management technology, BESS can provide energy to homes in areas where usage is high to cover peak demand. 

Britain’s energy grid is under increasing pressure, but there is no shortage of energy in the country to fulfil consumers needs and enable the development of new housing. The challenge is the reluctance to invest in adequate technologies, including load management software and BESS, both of which are essential for the future grid.