Seven key things to consider when implementing smart grids

Edie recently hosted a 45-minute masterclass webinar on smart grids, which saw expert speakers from E.ON and the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) provide best-practice advice on installing and operating flexible energy technologies. Here, we round up their key takeaways.

The masterclass webinar is now available to watch on-demand

The masterclass webinar is now available to watch on-demand

Distributed energy assets fast becoming a mainstream part of the UK power network as the energy mix decarbonises and the lines between generator and consumer continue to blur. But smart grids have not yet received uptake at scale and the business case remains, for some sectors, in its relative infancy.

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With this in mind, edie’s recent masterclass webinar on smart grids provided energy and sustainability professionals with the insights and inspiration they need to decentralise, decarbonise and democratise their energy through smart grid technologies and systems.

Produced in association with edie's supporting partner E.ON, the 45-minute session broke down the specifics of generating low-carbon power, storing it onsite and selling it back to the grid.

Here, we round up seven of the speakers’ key calls to action for those making key decisions on smart grid projects.  

Don’t be put off by outdated case studies

Kicking off the webinar was Caroline Damgaard, ADE researcher and scheme administrator at flex assure. She urged listeners to thoroughly research the context of smart grids before investing, in terms of geographical location, sector, load size and other factors. Specifically, she provided reassurance that many firms from sectors which have previously been excluded from contract requirements could now gain access and that the markets are now better for businesses generating, storing and selling smaller amounts of energy.

“The nature of DSR business cases is changing,” Damgaard said. “Previously, most cases were built either on long-term, bilateral contracts directly with the grid operator or on the provision of balancing services to the capacity market, which both offered fairly certain revenue streams.

“Now… there is no market that is lucrative enough on its own, meaning it is increasingly important to access and stack revenues across multiple markets. The good news is that this becoming increasingly popular…. We are seeing major reforms across the board to flexibility markets.”

On her latter point, Damgaard pointed to widening access to the balancing mechanism and wholesale market and capacity market reforms.

You don’t need to know everything – but you do need a good aggregator

Damgaard’s method for embarking on the smart grid journey as a business consists of three ‘E’s’ – exploring the market, examining your core functions and processes and engaging your staff and an aggregator.

Undertaking the first of these tasks may seem daunting, due to the sheer amount of jargon and the market’s rapidly changing nature, but should ultimately not put any organisation off, Damgaard explained. Aggregators exist not only to bundle multiple smaller units of flexibility from different organisations but to provide ongoing services to end-users, enabling them to get on with their business rather than allocating excessive time and resources to energy markets.

“This is a complex area undergoing rapid development – that is where aggregators come in to help you navigate and find the best solution,” Damgaard explained. “It’s highly recommended to speak to several aggregators before you commit and, as you do, be aware of any discrepancies.”

Safety comes first

E.ON UK’s battery project manager John Martin, like Daamgard, highlighted the potential of smart grids to generate additional revenues. He argued that most business cases stack up better when they involve co-located generation and storage assets, and that they are ultimately reliant on the systems’ contribution to energy resilience and to the broader CSR agenda, covering safety as well as emissions.  

“If you are installing a commercial-sized battery on your site, it’s a chemical process,” Martin said. “You really have to make sure it’s sized correctly and has the correct composition.”

“It’s really key for a smart grid that you have a secure data storage cloud and associated energy management systems,” he added. “This will give you visibility of the data and also control of the systems.”

In a typical smart grid, data is relayed between batteries and site equipment or buildings via a digital energy management systems.

Smart grids have resource impacts as well as energy impacts

For all the good they can achieve in decarbonising the energy sector, batteries contain a number of valuable materials with negative environmental and social impacts. Moreover, they do not last forever, with most car-sized batteries likely to have an operational life of around 15 years, and recycling infrastructure does not yet exist for all technologies.

As such, Martin encouraged organisations to thoroughly investigate the number of cycles (full charges/discharges) their batteries are likely to withstand before investing. He also highlighted second-life batteries as a solution for organisations looking to cut costs and minimise the resource impact of smart grid projects.

All sectors are smart-grid-compatible – work with your specific context

During the Q&A portion of the masterclass, speakers were asked whether some sectors are more suited to smart grid adoption the other. Their overarching conclusion was: no, not inherently.

Instead of looking at your sector, you should look at your business’s specific context, asking what assets you have, what their capacity is and whether they are used intermittently, Martin and Daamgard explained. If you are unable to measure these factors yourself, aggregators will be able to assist.

Areas in which you will not be able to compromise should also be considered, Daamgard said. Some businesses may need to maintain a certain temperature range, for example, whereas others cannot accept any disruptions.

Engagement is not to be underestimated

When asked for their one top tip for businesses considering smart grids, both speakers urged listeners to thoroughly and continually engage operational staff.

“These are the people on the ground, who will be making sure your assets are able to provide flexibility as and when you say they will,” Daamgard said. “Engaging them from the beginning ensures they know what it is you want them to do and why.”

Onsite workers will be particularly primed to help you consider what the plans for assets are in the short-term (one to four years), Martin added.

Broaden your horizons

Traditional business approaches are insular, focusing on benefits directly felt within the firm. Moving to smart grids will require some to ditch this approach, as they will enable organisations to provide services to the wider system and create positive environmental outcomes beyond their own operations.

“You may find that you’ll be leading your business in a whole new way of thinking,” Daamgard summarised. “DSR starts to move away from a mindset of creating value internally; it requires thinking outside of the company gates, so to speak.”

edie Staff



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