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Promoting future energy resilience

As an important part of the UK’s distributed generation network, combined heat and power (CHP) is contributing to reducing network demand and is key to the National Grid’s new Demand-side Balancing Reserve, which incentivises businesses to reduce energy use or switch to their own generation when demand is highest. 

Power resilience is becoming more important to businesses, with increasing numbers of our customers choosing to set up CHP systems that can be disconnected from the National Grid to operate in “island mode”, improving their energy security. This was powerfully illustrated during Hurricane Sandy, when New York CHP systems – designed to operate during grid electricity failure – kept the power on amid the widespread blackout.

CHP has the potential to take energy resilience one step further. By creating smart CHP networks, the technology could play an important role in relieving power-capacity constraints.

Instead of investing in new infrastructure or re-commissioning old fossil fuel power stations, existing clusters of CHP systems could be linked into a decentralised smartgrid to bridge capacity shortfalls. The bonus is that CHP decarbonises power supplies because it is more than twice as efficient as traditional power generation.

A research consortium involving Ener-G, Advanced Digital Institute, Flexitricity, Smarter Grid Solutions and UK Power Networks has highlighted the potential of CHP virtual power plants. Using live data from CHP systems and UK Power Networks’ London electricity network, the project used complex software and a central control system to tap into existing CHP capacity to show that by using such smartgrid systems, peaks in electrical demand can be mitigated.

Virtual power plants also have the potential to plug future capacity gaps that are the result of increased renewable energy from intermittent sources such as wind and solar.

Our company is playing an active role in consultation for the European Network Code on Requirements for Grid Connection, which aims to ensure consistent, reliable power supply across Europe and to avoid power outages. New European Grid Codes will be introduced, which will necessitate modifications to generating equipment – including CHP – to accommodate future grid connection.

We are also a partner in the Respond project. Led by Electricity North West, the goal is to deliver an intelligent approach to managing fault current – the instantaneous surge of energy that occurs under fault conditions.

This is intended to help meet future low-carbon electricity demand without the need to build costly new infrastructure. 

Using an active response fault level assessment tool, the plan is to demonstrate that fault current can be managed at lower cost by using existing assets, such as CHP, together with new commercial techniques.

In this way, it is hoped to accelerate the uptake of low-carbon demand and renewable generation – avoiding the need to prematurely replace expensive switchgear and cables while at the same time delivering savings to all distribution network customers.

It is predicted that the Respond methods will release the same capacity as traditional reinforcement, but up to 18 times faster and at much lower cost – up to 80% cheaper – potentially saving the UK £2.3bn by 2050.

Chris Marsland is technical director at  Ener-G Combined Power

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