Increasing electrical infrastructure security and resilience

Insight by Ndomupeimwari Bizabani, Engineer, and Kieran Coughlan, Manager Asset Management

Resilience is the ability to anticipate, absorb and adapt to the kinds of challenges and changes that can destabilise people, organisations or communities. In the energy sector, resilience is becoming an increasingly pressing issue because of the changes to the electricity system.

Effects of power failure

The UK has had its fair share of bad weather, perhaps more so in recent times due to climate change. Unpredictable weather conditions can increase the risk of power outages. Depending on the extent and severity of the power outage, its impact can range from mere inconvenience to everyday life to potentially life-threatening consequences. 

A one-second power interruption can affect an airport’s operations for days. For example, one consequence of a power outage in an airport is that all the bags on the conveyers need to be rescanned and put through the system again. This can mean passengers fly to locations all across the globe without their bags, causing severe reputational and customer satisfaction issues for the airport, the airline and handling partners. Within a hospital environment, power disruption can profoundly affect the quality of healthcare, especially if it occurs during a major operation.

Beyond the effects of extreme weather, energy supply is also susceptible to disruptions due to network instability caused by insufficient governance and management of the risks and mitigations for the network. Power tripping disrupts business continuity and negatively impacts a business’ reputation and performance. Given the dependency of business operations on the reliability and resilience of power systems, the need to identify ways of mitigating the risks of power disruption or failure cannot be overemphasized. 

Power disruptions to business operations can also lead to serious financial implications. The Value of Lost Load, which represents the value that electricity users attribute to security of supply, is estimated at £16,940/MwH across all electricity users by the energy regulator Ofgem and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. However, for businesses where electricity is critical to their operations, businesses may attribute an even higher value. 

Smarter power solutions 

Investing in innovative solutions and exploring new ways to optimise existing infrastructure could help safeguard businesses against the practical and financial risks associated with power instability. Two key technology types that should be considered are distributed energy resources (e.g. solar photovoltaic panels, combined heat and power, battery storage) and software solutions (e.g. SCADA, active network management). When combined, they make up a powerful business solution called a microgrid. 

Microgrids can minimise the impact of a disturbance on the wider network by enabling the power to flow independently using local generation. An example of this was seen during wildfire season in California in the summer of 2018 and Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2012 which were both scenes of chaos and destruction.  During both of these events, microgrids were used in an “islanded mode” to allow power to continue autonomously over a 10-day period, providing electricity to emergency and critical services during a time of need without drawing from the national power systems. Microgrids can be harnessed by businesses to take control of power resilience and mitigate risks in the face of environmental distress. 

Since 2003, industrial energy bills have seen an increase of more than 50%, with the UK going from having the cheapest energy bill in the European Union to being the most expensive retail price for industrial consumers during the third quarter of 2018. In addition to resilience benefits, a localised energy supply using energy storage, renewable generation and active network management could also allow organisations to reduce significantly the cost of their power supply, by generating energy at a lower rate than the market and using battery storage at peak times.

A microgrid solution not only offers resilience for an organisation, but will enhance security, efficiency quality and sustainability for your business. 

Microgrid projects require expertise in energy policy and regulation, existing and future market developments, technology architecture and financing. We provide energy solutions that optimise existing assets and integrate new technologies to deliver improved performance and commercial benefits. Our clients trust us to provide safe, reliable and innovative bespoke energy infrastructure strategy and solutions.

Case study: UPS

We partnered with UPS, a global leader in logistics, to look into solutions that would enable them to electrify their depot fleet without reinforcing the local network. Freight electric vehicles, like those used by UPS, can use up to ten times as much power as a typical home when charging. This means that charging large numbers of trucks simultaneously puts significant demand on the depot’s electricity supply. Due to a capacity limitation on the local electricity network, the integration of more electric vehicles at the depot would require a significant network upgrade to ensure the demand could be met. UPS identified that traditional network reinforcement was not a viable model for deploying more electric vehicles at its Kentish Town depot.

Our in-house Energy and Technology Consulting team, who are experienced in developing and implementing state-of-the-art power systems solutions, recommended the implementation of a smart grid system. We implemented new smart electric vehicle charging systems to power UPS’s central London delivery fleet for what is believed to be the first of its kind in the world on this scale. This smart charging solution allows UPS to increase the number of 7.5-tonne electric trucks operating from its London site from the current limit of 65 to 170, without the need for an upgrade to the power supply connection. 

Through our inspired thinking, assured solutions, integrated delivery and long-term expertise, we enable our clients to concentrate on their core business and focus on their customers.