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Smoking chimneys at a power plant Wind farm running at the top of a hill

The changing business of power

The day-to-day business of balancing power supply and demand is becoming much more complicated, but with this challenge comes opportunity.

The world’s first coal-fired power plant started generating electricity in London in 1882. One-hundred and thirty-five years later, in April 2017, Great Britain had its first coal-free power generation weekday. The milestone was a stark illustration of how the business of energy is changing.

Around the world, records for electricity from renewable sources are being continually set and broken. Wind now produces almost half of Denmark’s annual power production, while India has completed construction of the world’s largest solar farm, a 648MW plant covering 10 sq km in Tamil Nadu.

Complex challenge

The accelerating move to cleaner energy is rightly applauded, but it heralds a complex challenge: with many ways of generating power now in the mix, the day-to-day business of balancing supply and demand is becoming more complicated.

Network operators are having to adapt to the intermittent nature of power from renewables and more widely distributed generation than the traditional centralised grid model.

The UK’s National Grid expects that, as the country moves from big power plants to many smaller generators, it will have ‘visibility’ (ie: control) of only 30–50% of power generated.

Operators everywhere face the same challenge: how to balance supply and demand second by second, hour by hour. To keep up with this challenge, energy policy is shifting rapidly too. In the UK, the government is aiming to manage the grid via a three-pronged approach involving storage, interconnectors and demand-side response – essentially an inducement to businesses to become more flexible about when and how much electricity they consume.

A big step

It’s a very big step from what has been done before, but it is a global trend. The new power transmission and the distribution networks to support the universal objective of clean, secure and affordable energy require a greater range of skills and knowledge. Gone are the days when power engineering design consultancies were concerned solely with overhead lines, substations and transformers. Their focus must now also include:

  • grid-scale battery storage schemes;
  • technologies to maximise the amount of power generated by existing infrastructure;
  • high-voltage direct current interconnectors; and
  • a workable demand-side response programme.

We have the technical expertise as well as the advisory skills and behind-the-scenes real-world economists to help power businesses – generators, suppliers, distribution companies and network operators – through the transition.

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