Unlocking New Energy Projects with Smart Microgrids

Grid constraints have become one of the biggest barriers for many energy projects, with some renewable generation or battery energy storage proposals waiting months or even years for approval. In the case of grid connection works, in extreme cases this can run to decades, despite a review by Ofgem to speed up the backlog.

For businesses waiting on the installation of what could be a critical part of their energy infrastructure, there is no obvious solution to getting grid connection works and approvals sped up, as it is rarely a case of simply upgrading the connection to a site. It is our ageing distribution infrastructure itself that needs upgrading.

Smart microgrids offer an alternative that can means new infrastructure can operate without requiring lengthy, costly grid connection works. By designing a site that can operate independently of the grid, known as island mode, a smart microgrid can unlock many of these stalled projects.

Building a Smart Microgrid

A typical smart microgrid will incorporate a number of common elements. This typically includes some form of on-site generation, for example solar PV or CHP. Many also deal with multiple energy vectors, such as heat from a ground or air source heat pump. A battery energy storage system is often used to allow this on-site generation to be stored and accessed when required.

To achieve this complex balance of generation and storage, as well as managing any additional demand or discharge to the wider grid, requires an intelligent energy management system, smart metering, and digital communication infrastructure across the varying elements of the microgrid to allow it to be monitored and controlled in real-time.

Properly set up, a smart microgrid offers a range of benefits for a site, including better energy efficiency that in turn leads to reduced energy costs and carbon emissions. Crucially for many projects, they can also offer the flexibility to integrate new, energy-intensive technologies that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive to operate using energy from the grid, or at risk of being turned down by a site’s DNO over concerns about its impact on local distribution infrastructure. One growing example of this is rapid EV chargers, which bring with them significant additional energy demand. Using a microgrid, on-site generation and storage can be used to buffer this charging demand rather than relying on a site’s grid connection.

Feasibility Studies

A comprehensive feasibility study for a site and proposed smart microgrid is the best way to ensure that a proposed project delivers on your organisation’s specific energy management objectives, as well as maximising the performance of each element of the microgrid.

Capturing data uses a range of different metrics, including a comprehensive site survey, analysis of existing site information and consumption data, and an assessment of the performance of any existing systems and infrastructure. With this, a clear picture of how a site is currently operating can be formed, which in turn allows the right solutions to be identified and implemented to ensure whether your objective is cost savings, carbon reduction, energy security or some combination of the three, your chosen solution provides the best return on investment possible.

For smart microgrids specifically, a feasibility study will review the level of a site’s generation and storage capacity, giving a clear estimate of the scope of a project, costs and potential impact. With many energy systems requiring some form of permission from your DNO, and investment in renewable generation often incentivised through government support schemes, a feasibility will also factor these aspects in to identify any potential issues or delays and a clearer picture of the capital investment required.

For complex microgrid projects, Powerstar has the capability to model a site in a digital space, known as a digital twin, and assess the performance of the proposed solution in real-time across a wide variety of different conditions. This helps to ensure that any potential issues or improvements can be identified and implemented before commissioning work starts on the site itself. Feasibility studies are a vital first step in delivering an energy infrastructure project that meets expectations and delivers on energy management objectives.

To start planning your own net zero journey, speak to our team now