National Grid plans to stabilise the energy grid by plugging into new technology after raising concerns a year ago that it may be “walking blind” into the risk of blackouts. The energy system operator is under investigation by the industry regulator, and the government, after Britain’s biggest blackout in more than a decade struck large parts of England and Wales on 9 August. The system operator revealed that it had been running the risk of blackouts over a year before the outage, which cut electricity to almost a million homes. To safeguard the system it has been working on a series of software agreements with companies including the US giant General Electric (GE) to replace its spreadsheet models, which provide estimates of the grid’s stability. National Grid is understood to be close to announcing a deal with GE to measure energy system “inertia”, or the energy buffer that helps to keep frequency stable, following a separate deal with another technology firm for similar software in August. A National Grid spokesman said the initiatives are the first of their kind anywhere in the world, and will be incorporated “over the coming years”. The FTSE 100 company has invested about £10bn in modernising the grid over the past six years but industry sources fear that its efforts are not coming fast enough to adapt to the quicker-than-expected rollout of new energy technologies. National Grid has blamed lightning strikes for triggering a series of power-plant outages on 9 August, leading to a sharp fall in the system’s frequency, which caused the blackout. It said low inertia can amplify the impact of outages by allowing the system frequency to fall faster than expected. The energy system’s inertia is typically lower than it was 10 years ago following the move from large-scale fossil-fuel plants to renewable energy projects, which is making it more difficult to maintain healthy inertia and frequency. A spokesman for National Grid said its systems “are appropriate” for the levels of wind and solar power in operation but the company plans to “embrace new technologies” by 2025 when it wants to be able to run a carbon-free system.
Guardian 21st Aug 2019 read more »
The shift away from coal and gas as baseload suppliers towards multiple smaller and more intermittent renewable sources also makes the task of managing the power system more complex. National Grid says the fact a wind generator was involved in this month’s incident has no significance. But some analysts say wind farms provide less “inertia”, or resistance to frequency drops on the grid, than traditional generators, making frequency more vulnerable to sudden supply drops. The regulator should examine whether reserve power requirements – obliging the grid to hold back-up power equivalent to the biggest generator on the system that day – are sufficient. National Grid says increasing this would carry a cost. But that should be weighed against the potential costs to the economy of damage to, and failures of, critical infrastructure. Bolstering network resilience will require government, regulators and power companies to work together. The collapse of two nuclear power station projects within the past nine months makes adoption of a new energy strategy even more pressing. A white paper has been delayed but should be given high priority by the new government. The country could pay a high price if it is not.
FT 21st Aug 2019 read more »