A step forward for smart energy

Louise Davis

UK firm achieves a world first in smart grid innovation

One of the UK’s leading smart grid and demand-side response (DSR) company has recently demonstrated a world first in energy communications technology, following a successful nationwide project with National Grid and SSE.

Reactive Technologies’ grid data and measurement system (GDMS) technology offers a new and cost-effective way of communicating with electrical assets or devices connected to an electricity network, marking a step towards a smart energy revolution.

Grid frequency

Traditional approaches to communicating with assets require a reliable internet or mobile communication connection in addition to an individual meter, which can prove financially prohibitive and limit the viability of DSR schemes that incorporate thousands of smaller assets. Many assets are excluded from existing DSR arrangements due to a lack of remote connectivity. GDMS provides an alternative, cost-effective solution to this by using the frequency of the electricity network to carry data.

Additionally, GDMS will give electricity network operators greater insight into the behaviour of ‘prosumers’ – customers who have the ability to generate, consume and store their own electricity. The data provided by GDMS will provide a clearer picture of how electricity is generated and consumed at the distribution network level. Such information is essential for operators tasked with balancing electricity networks which are becoming increasingly complex with the increased variety of assets connected to them such as distributed and intermittent generators like solar along with electric vehicles and batteries.

GDMS will allow network operators to reduce costs and pass savings on to electricity consumers by improving the accuracy of forecasting models and the purchase of energy reserves.

Cordi O’Hara, Director of UK system operator, National Grid says: “At National Grid we are keen to support innovative products that can bring a real benefit for customers. We are proud to be part of this groundbreaking project, which has demonstrated the successful transmission of data through the electricity grid over long distances, critically passing through transformers and with a broad coverage. It represents another step forward in the development of the smart grid technologies that are going to play an increasingly important role in the energy systems of the future.

“National Grid signed up to the scheme as part of its work to support innovative ways to help balance supply and demand and also provide benefits to customers. Technology that allows devices to communicate quickly will help encourage ‘demand side’ solutions that encourage efficient use of energy and will increasingly become part of the way the grid is managed.”

Marc Borrett, CEO for Reactive comments: “The European energy industry is turning on its head. For several years we’ve witnessed the gradual transformation of the sector from centralised energy generation, which relies heavily on fossil fuels, to a model that will be determined by the ‘3Ds’ – decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation.

“In the past the energy sector has drawn upon mechanical and electrical engineering skills to meet its technical needs. Now it is time for change. We are bringing highly innovative communications engineering capabilities to the energy space, offering radically different solutions that can address the critical issues facing our energy networks. In GDMS, our communications engineers have invented a truly disruptive technology that has the potential to benefit many stakeholders across the energy supply chain.”

Jens Madrian, CFO and CCO of Reactive adds: “GDMS can dramatically reduce the cost of creating large-scale smart grid networks allowing wider participation in DSR programmes, for example by including domestic devices such as fridges, air conditioning systems and hot water tanks. Creating flexible demand is the lowest cost and carbon free way of balancing the electricity system, which is otherwise managed by turning up or down thermal power plant like diesel generators or gas fired power stations. GDMS offers a new cost-effective way to create flexible demand at scale.”

How GDMS works

Connected devices send and receive data across the electricity network through minute and subtle changes made to the grid frequency by modulating the power consumption of transmitting devices. These ‘on’ and ‘off’ or frequency changes create a unique code. Receivers, embedded in the plugs of devices, such as freezers, hot water tanks and air conditioning equipment, are programmed to detect these frequency changes. Receiving devices then identify and decode the messages, which automatically tell the device to carry out a particular instruction, for example, to tell the device to take action such as turn down or turn off according to a schedule, or based on grid frequency changes.

GDMS allows for faster, automated responses from assets so they can be used for higher value, system-critical, load-balancing services like frequency response.

Project Samuel was the code name for Reactive’s demonstrator project with National Grid and SSE that started in April 2014 and ended successfully in March 2016. Ofgem funded project Samuel under its Networks Innovation Allowance (NIA) fund.

Reactive is now focusing on building further partnerships to bring the technology to market in the UK and overseas with parties such as distributed generators, network operators and energy suppliers along with electricity consumers and ‘prosumers’.

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