Trialing a smart grid in the REPLICATE project

Written by Phil Higgins on 09 May, 17
Focus on city challenges

REPLICATE is a 5 year smart city project exploring new technology in homes, streets and communities. One key theme of the project is how this smart tech can work together to help achieve one of the main goals of the project: lower energy consumption and reduced environmental impact. We can see the elements of REPLICATE working together in plans to create a smart energy grid  in the pilot area in Ashley, Easton and Lawrence Hill.

Much of the UK’s electricity distribution system works in the time honoured way: large power stations produce power which goes through the national grid to the local grids which serve our communities. The grid experiences rises in demand, typically in the early evening when people have returned from work / school, and the electricity generation companies respond by bringing power stations online to stay ahead of the demand and maintain voltage and current in the system to avoid blackouts. However, how we consume and produce energy is changing posing big challenges for a conventional electricity grid.

New technology and lifestyle changes mean energy consumption in certain areas is rising, for example, electric cars – whilst economical to run compared to petrol and diesel cars – will place extra demand on the grid, particularly if people want to charge them at peak times. The UK Government estimates that by 2050 demand for electricity could increase six fold due to the shift to new products like electric cars and other consumer changes. One response to this could be to keep the conventional system and build new power stations, adding new pylons and cabling, however, this is extremely expensive and could add £1,100 a year to household bills. There is another option which would be far more economical – we could make our electricity grids smarter.

Another challenge to the conventional system is local energy production from solar panels and wind power, where local energy producers are looking to sell energy back to the grid for other consumers. This local renewable energy is variable, for example, unsurprisingly solar panels produce most electricity when the sun is shining – and it’s this variability which poses challenges for a conventional grid. Smart grids would be better able to integrate these local renewable energy producers.

So, a smart grid typically has the following elements:

  • A local energy demand management system which coordinates with smart appliances and other things which use energy in order to reduce peak demand (energy use when demand and costs are high). Instead, this demand is automatically shifted to cheaper off peak times as long as this meets consumer and community needs. An example might be somebody’s electric car is charged at night, or a household appliance e.g. a dishwasher comes on automatically during the morning when people are at work.   In both examples, both activities are completed whilst the demand on the grid is smoother and better managed.
  • Local renewable energy production e.g. solar panels and wind turbines with the ability to sell spare energy back to the grid. In smart grids, this spare energy could be available to people and businesses in the area at an economical price to help lower energy bills.
  • Smart connected household appliances, particularly the ones which use a lot of energy like dishwashers and washing machines.
  • Businesses integrated with the smart grid to cut their costs, energy use and better manage when they use energy.
  • Smart city infrastructure connected to the internet and the energy demand management system.
  • An emphasis on greater energy efficiency, for instance better insulated homes and low energy lighting and appliances.
  • Smart energy meters and better information to enable people to make informed choices about their energy use.

So, in REPLICATE we will be exploring smart grids in an area of Bristol for the first time. The project aims to bring real benefits to local people and the community in lower energy costs, as well as helping Bristol meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gases and our impact on the environment. We’ll be assessing how smart grids could avoid investment in new power stations to meet our changing energy uses.

If you’re a business or resident in the pilot area and would like to find out more or volunteer, please visit the REPLICATE website.

This video provides an easy-to-follow summary of smart grids. Please note that EON are not involved in REPLICATE and the video has been included for demonstration purposes only.

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