Researchers at Newcastle University are hoping to improve the way smart grid technology can respond to emergencies with a new £2m test lab.
The facility being built in partnership with technology provider Siemens will enable researchers to simulate the operation of a smart grid using data from the real network in order to see how it would cope with extreme demands or damage.
The lab will use a real-time network simulator that feeds information on the actual generation and consumption of electricity as it happens into a smart grid control programme, demonstrating what happens when renewable generation drops as demands peaks or when part of the grid is knocked out by a storm.
‘Demonstration projects have shown that [this technology] works but on a network that wasn’t really taxed because there was an emphasis on making sure customers knew it wouldn’t jeopardise their security of supply – with the lab you can test it to its limits,’ Dr Pádraig Lyons, Newcastle’s senior smart grids researcher, told The Engineer.
‘We’re testing the Siemens control system but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try other control systems, different algorithms. It’s a test bed to test this sort of equipment for other future network scenarios.
‘Going forward we may be working with Siemens on their existing equipment to change the algorithms so it operates better in a real scenario because they don’t know what a real network will look like in the future.’
Smart grid technology is a general term used to describe hardware and software used to give greater control and automation over the way an electricity network is managed.
It is increasingly seen as a necessary way to help reduce energy consumption and administer a large amount of intermittent and widely distributed renewable generation, as society moves to lower carbon energy system.
Newcastle’s lab will also include an electric vehicle (EV) and smart washing machine that the researchers will use to study how these kinds of devices can help manage demand on the network.
For example, the EV battery could be used store and late retrieve energy for the grid, while the washing machine could be sent a message requesting that its user delays turning it on until there is less demand from elsewhere in the network.
The UK is investing millions of pounds into projects to research and trial smart grid technology through universities and network operators. However, it is already behind other countries such as Canada, which has been rolling out technology to both operators and consumers for several years now.