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Microgrids – Managing the Load in the UK

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writer and researcher BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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The British isles had two serious blackouts this summer, the worst in ten years, due to power plant outages. Almost a million homes across the country lost power. As a result, the energy watchdog Ofgem and the government have raised concerns about the UK grid’s capability to cope with changing energy needs and demands.

Perhaps microgrids could help alleviate this challenge? Although historically microgrids were often used in remoter places, where grid connection was too expensive, they are now becoming widespread in more populated areas. According to a report by Navigant Research, there are 4,475 identified microgrid projects in proposal, planning and deployed stages, in a variety of different configurations. Combining a range of generation sources with energy storage and intelligent load management, microgrids are could be part of the solution to providing reliable, less costly and more environmentally-friendly power when needed.

One benefit is reducing energy costs: microgrids are estimated to save between 21 and 30 per cent on current energy costs, while reducing peak power requirements. This is particularly important for organizations that need a high level of energy reliability, such as hospitals or data centers. For these businesses, a microgrids ability to operate independently from the larger grid is invaluable.

Businesses which have their own generation assets also benefit from improved energy security instead of being reliant on the main grid. When a challenge arises, a situation known as demand side response occurs, where companies attached to the UK national grid can be asked to reduce their energy consumption. Having a nearby microgrid would alleviate this problem.

Microgrids can power local networks, but what’s the benefit to the larger electricity grid? When the grid experiences a crisis, like this summer's two UK blackouts, microgrids can sell power to the grid to alleviate unexpected demand peaks.

During this kind of situation, the grid will suddenly undergo a surge in power demand, but not necessarily have sufficient power available. If the supply isn’t on hand, that’s where microgrids can sell excess electricity to the grid. This needs advanced software and AI utilization to ensure that the microgrids can cope with surges in demand, balancing generation from intermittent renewable power sources with distributed, controllable generation and storage.

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