Into the croquet garden

Posted on Jun 8, 2021
Into the croquet garden

Like Alice in Wonderland, we’ve opened a very small door that’s led us into a strange and exciting new world.

Over the past year, Swanbarton has explored the opportunities for energy management at the short and very short time scales that the power industry has thus far overlooked. It’s an industry that was born in the age of manual meter readings; an industry for which half an hour is the lower limit for planning; an industry in which events below the half-hour level have been considered too quick for any computer system to respond to. But while the power industry was busy with other things, digital systems have long ago passed the point where half an hour was any kind of limit.

Swanbarton’s site energy management information and control systems work in the time frames of minutes and seconds, and we’re seeing great opportunities ahead from exploiting energy fluctuations at that level.

While supplier meters and renewables forecasting services choose to represent the world as if things only changed at half hour intervals, the reality is unsurprisingly different. As we engage with energy flows at finer time scales, a new world of high speed fluctuations appears: and those fluctuations can embody a very significant amount of power that’s lost to the half-hour world above.

Controlling site energy at the level of minutes or seconds opens opportunities for increasing local consumption of renewable energy, avoiding wasteful export to the grid, and avoiding penalties for grid demand peaking.

UK businesses are deterred from installing renewable generation technologies such as solar PV or wind power, because the per-kWh prices for electricity export offered by electricity supply companies are too low to justify the investment.

The disconnect between renewable generation and local consumption is also creating problems for the regional and national power networks, as unexpected fluctuations in renewable generation flow out into the networks, necessitating costly corrective action.

Swanbarton’s engineers are developing technology to match renewable generation with local consumption more efficiently, by exploiting the possibilities of very short time scales. Swanbarton’s work will, we hope, bring UK closer to the goal of net zero carbon emissions. Our industrial research to reach this point was supported by grant funding from Innovate UK, for which we are very grateful.