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Future of Energy | Greening the Grid

Wind Power

Matching energy supply with local and national demand is so complex that automation, machine learning and real-time carbon intensity reporting will be needed.

Consumers are almost certain to play a key role in driving changes in the energy market as they exploit digital technology to manage their personal energy use. 

Through the Internet of Things and connected homes concepts, electronic devices such as washing machines, dishwashers and freezers can all be programmed to use energy at the best price, or stop using energy when there is too much demand. 

For example, in Britain at half time during an important sporting event like the football World Cup, surges in energy demand as everyone gets up and puts the kettle on are frequent. To meet this demand, other non-essential household appliances such as fridges or freezers could run on minimum power for as little as 10 minutes to even out electricity demand without damaging the food they contain. 

Technology has now reached a stage where consumers can also choose to use electricity at times when renewable sources are making up more of what is fed to the Grid. National Grid is leading the charge here, with its energy forecasting tool now able to provide a 48 hour forecast of the carbon intensity of electricity generation region-by-region. 

National Grid has worked in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund Europe and charity WWF to progress this innovative software which tells users the sources their energy is likely to come from over the next 48 hour period when they input their postcode. 

With this knowledge, any carbon-concerned person can choose when to schedule an energy-intensive activity like doing the washing so that the energy used comes from the greenest source. Clearly, it is only a small step for connected, smart appliances to do this calculation for us. 

Any carbon-concerned person can choose when to schedule an energy-intensive activity

The tool uses a wide variety of data sources and artificial intelligence to predict, for example, how much solar or wind power will be fed to the Grid based on weather forecasting and historical comparisons. 

“This tailored information can tell people in advance when’s best to turn on the washing machine, load the dishwasher or charge the car, helping everyone to use power when it’s cleanest and most likely more cost efficient,” says Duncan Burt, who is the director of National Grid’s system operator function. 

When the project to develop the software was originally launched in September 2017, National Grid made available all the forecast data for technology companies to create consumer friendly applications. One such user, Bulb, a green energy supplier, has used the data for its Carbon Bot, an app that provides information about the greenest times to use energy. All Bulb members are buying 100% renewable electricity, but making decisions about when to use electricity at home to help the grid as a whole and support the UK’s transition to 100% clean energy. 

WWF executive director for advocacy and campaigns Tony Juniper is naturally enthused about the tool. 

“The impact of climate change is wreaking havoc on nature. We’re the first generation in history to understand this impact, yet the last that will be in a position to take the kind of action needed,” he says. 

“The decarbonisation of electricity grids and the Green Energy Forecasting tool is one way to help make that happen. It will allow consumers to charge devices and power up appliances when there is a lot of green power in the Grid, further diminishing the use of fossil sources and thereby reducing our collective impact on the natural world.” 

It is easier than ever for homeowners to generate green energy and the cost of renewable generating equipment is coming down

Consumers are also driving the move to renewable energy in more direct ways. It is easier than ever for homeowners to generate green energy and the cost of renewable generating equipment is coming down. Often this means that during sunny days or when there is a lot of wind, there can be surplus electricity on the Grid. The swings that this creates in wholesale prices can mean that prices can go negative, so that effectively free electricity is available. 

While this can be a problem for managing the Grid, the good news is that if consumers can take advantage of this growing number of free energy periods by consuming when prices are negative, they can save significant sums of money. 

Traditionally, consumers have purchased their energy from one of the big six energy suppliers yet, with the rise of microgeneration, people can generate their own power and can sell it back to the Grid – so everyone can become their own electricity supplier. 

“Vehicle to Grid” or V2G could also be an important way to balance national energy supplies as well as saving money for consumers. Electric car owners could charge them overnight and allow National Grid to use any stored electricity at times of higher demand the next day. 

New technology will make this possible by allowing electric car owners to communicate with energy companies via an add-on to their home charging point to ensure the car is ready when needed, while at other times, any stored energy can contribute a small part of its storage to an intelligent charging system. There is already a scheme in operation for owners of Nissan Leaf vehicles which will earn them cheaper electricity if they sign up.

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