The future of electricity

The future of electricity
03 May 2017

In the UK, the majority of electricity comes from large, centralised power plants. 

Although this approach enables economies of scale in the energy sector, it means that customers, particularly those within inner cities depend on long-distance transmission to receive power. 

Here Nick Boughton, sales manager at industrial systems integrator, Boulting Technology discusses how businesses need to adapt to keep up with increased energy demands. 

In a bid to reduce energy costs and improve reliability, customers are turning to local energy generation — power that is generated in underutilised spaces such as rooftops, landfills and empty car parks. 

Local energy generation reduces costs and improves the overall efficiency of the power system. It minimises line losses and extends the lifespan of existing transmission infrastructure by minimising wear from overuse. It also creates a stronger, more resilient network of power in the face of extreme weather, human error and outsider attacks. 

The benefits of local energy generation are clear for home owners, but commercial and industrial properties are also starting to explore the alternatives to the national grid. 

The microgrid is a localised group of electricity sources and loads that normally operate as part of the national grid, but can disconnect and function autonomously if necessary. 

These types of grids are maturing quickly within the commercial and industrial sectors in North America and Asia Pacific, but lack of standards limit them on a global scale. Having these standards in place would mean that manufacturers could access a more secure supply, avoiding regular power interruptions that can cause high revenue losses and long periods of downtime. 

Renewables Renewable sources currently produce more than 20 per cent of the UK's electricity and targets set by the European Union mean that this is likely to rise to 30 per cent by 2020. Countries in Europe are building increasing amounts of renewable capacity in order to reduce their carbon emissions and boost supply security.

Last year, Denmark’s wind farms supplied 140 per cent of the country's demand and Germany received all of its power from renewable energy sources for an entire day. 

While these were planned events, in May 2016, the UK hit the headlines as it had no coal-fired power stations meeting electricity demand for a short space of time as a result of the partial failure of a power import cable. It is events like this that highlight the eventual need for a more long-term market supply. 

In 2017, the Scottish government bid to cut total climate emissions by 66 per cent within 15 years. This is one of the world's most ambitious climate strategies and is expected to cost up to £3 billion per year to implement. 

To cut emissions, the Scottish government has released a renewable energy programme, which includes targets of 40 per cent of all new cars sold in Scotland to be ultra-low emission and 80 per cent of Scotland's homes to be heated using low-carbon technologies. Currently, solar energy is limited to daylight hours and wind power cannot be harvested all year round. 

The only way to guarantee a 24-hour renewable supply is to have a method of storage. Leveraging car and mobile phone developments, modern battery storage systems will soon be used to store renewable energy. 

In just a few years' time, battery storage will be commonplace not just at grid level, but on industrial sites, office blocks and in the home too.

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