All Systems Operational 

The Last Push to the Clean Power Era

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The power infrastructure in the UK is in a major transitional phase and with the PM stating that all of the UK’s electricity is going to come from clean energy sources by 2035; as COP26 progresses we expect more news on the clean power era to come.

So, what exactly is clean power? 

Clean energy is energy that has derived from renewable, zero-emission sources that don’t pollute the atmosphere. The renewable sources could be wind power, solar, hydropower, tidal and geothermal, each of which is constantly being replenished.  

Power mix of the future  

To reach the net-zero target, the UK’s future energy mix will be poles apart from what it looks like today. For example, in the government’s Ten Point Plan, the goal is to quadruple offshore wind capacity by 2030.  

In addition, the government has been bringing the renewable goalposts forward, with the latest target for renewables to supply nearly half of the UK electricity by 2025.  

Renewable energy intermittency  

Whilst making renewables a greater proportion of the energy mix is moving the UK towards a more sustainable future, it does come with some challenges, one of these being intermittency or volatility.  

Although renewable energy has considerable sustainable advantages, they are heavily weather-dependent. With this, the level of energy supplied will be constantly fluctuating, putting pressure on the National Grid to become more flexible in managing power demand and supply.  

With more and more of the power supply coming from decentralized, fluctuating sources, the need for precise predictions of how much power will be fed into the grid is becoming integral. To get this level of visibility, the National Grid will have to pull in data from various areas, such as highly accurate weather forecasts, past demand, current demand from smart meters, and the current amount of power being generated by renewable sources supplying the grid. Sudden drops or surges could impact grid stability massively.  

To counteract the volatility and ensure a stable supply, innovation is going to need to be implemented.  

Saving for a rainy day  

One of the ways to battle the instability are energy storage batteries. Unlike your Duracell, industrial batteries are capable of large-scale energy grid storage. In November 2020, the green light was given for the UK’s largest-ever battery storage project to be built at DP World London Gateway, which could provide 320MW of capacity to buffer intermittent renewables on the grid.  

The use of renewables alongside battery storage enables the grid to be more resilient against any drops in supply from renewable sources. Additional supply can be stored in battery storage, in preparation for when demand outweighs supply (when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining) and use this stored source of energy to keep the lights on.  

Predictive analysis  

Aside from making factories more efficient and office spaces more sustainable, AI also has the potential to bring stability to the grid. As an increasing amount of megawatts feeds into the grid from variable renewable energy sources, predicting capacity levels has become paramount to securing a stable and efficient grid. The powerful prediction capabilities of AI will lead to improved demand forecasting.  

With renewables taking up a greater share of the grid, there is a loss of baseload generation from sources such as coal, which provide grid inertia via the presence of heavy rotating equipment such as steam and gas turbines. Without grid inertia, power networks will be unstable and susceptible to blackouts. 

Utilising AI enables information from demand, supply, and forecasts to be collated and analysed, from which patterns and trends can be derived, to adapt operations at any time.  

Clean power can revolutionise our energy system, but to truly achieve a reliable, sustainable energy supply, technology must be integrated to adapt to flexible supply.  

Carlos Nisbet
Carlos Nisbet
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