With National Grid supply capacity lower than it has been for 7 years, the UK needs to find new ways to keep blackouts at bay. Find out how CHP technology is leading the charge.
If you kept up with last year’s blackout fears, this probably isn’t a huge surprise. This year’s spare capacity margin has fallen from 17% three years ago to 4% this winter due to generator closures and breakdowns. 15 power plants have closed or partially closed since 2012, removing a large portion of the UK's energy-generating capacity.
Plans to reactivate three existing power stations are being finalised in order to provide reserve power in the case of unexpected high demand, and network demand is being managed through the new Demand Side Balancing Reserve - but instead of just plugging the gaps, more needs to be done to ensure better capacity margins for the future.
How can CHP help?
Combined Heat and Power technology can play a huge part in improving power resilience in two ways:
1. On-site generation
CHP is already playing an important role in reducing network demand as a popular source of on-site generation. Also known as cogeneration, it generates usable heat and power in a single process, making use of the heat that would otherwise be wasted when generating electrical power and replacing a conventional boiler which would require additional fuel to be burnt.
A CHP unit can be configured to operate in ‘island mode’, which allows the operator to gain full independence from the grid. This means that in the case of a mains supply failure, the CHP unit can continue to supply power to the building independently.
2. Virtual power plants
Since 2012, a major research consortium has been exploring innovative solutions to keep the UK’ lights on. The results found that a viable way to tap into existing generation capacity could be through ‘Smart CHP’ - cogeneration employed as virtual power plants.
Clusters of existing CHP plants could be configured to communicate through a decentralised smart-grid. By using complex software and a central control system to access their generation capacity, potential gaps in capacity could be filled, relieving peaks in electricity demand.
This would also have the benefit of decarbonising electricity supplies. CHP is more than twice as efficient as coal-fired plants, and when contrasted with the option of bringing old fossil fuel power stations back into service, the benefits of CHP virtual power plants are clear.
- Combined Heat and Power enhances security of supply through more efficient use of fuel.
- It reduces demand from centralised power stations and therefore reduces stress on the electricity grid.
- CHP increases reliability of supply on site as it can be configured to run independently from the grid.
- It can be employed in virtual power networks to lend generation capacity to the grid during peaks in demand.