National Grid Control Centre Tour

PowerHouse2030 Event Summary: 18/05/2016 at National Grid

This week we hosted our first event outside of London, at National Grid’s Secret Control Centre in Wokingham.  We learnt about how the role of the System Operator is having to adapt in order to manage the changes happening in terms of our evolving generation portfolio and energy demands. Jon McDonald, Incentives Development Analyst at National Grid gave us a summary of their role as the System Operator for GB using some thought-provoking real life examples of unpredictable demand. This was followed by an interactive session with Duncan Burt, Head of Operate the System, where we discussed as a group the challenges facing the System Operator in the future before moving into the control centre itself.

We have all heard about the peak that occurs after EastEnders when everyone puts the kettle on, but did you know about the patterns of activity during other TV events such as the Murray vs Djokovic Wimbledon final in 2013 and the Royal Wedding in 2011? It was fascinating to hear how our behaviour relates to specific points in a given event, for example very low demand in the final set of the tennis when everyone is watching intently and not doing anything else and then in the Royal Wedding everyone watches at the beginning then when the first hymn starts everyone goes and makes tea or grabs a beer from the fridge. National Grid has to predict not just when these key TV events are but how our behaviour will vary throughout. We discovered that to help National Grid in this role they actually employ their own soap opera expert!

However is this relationship between TV programs and electricity consumption going to continue? Well there will always be big events which we want to watch live, however Duncan pointed out that one notable difference with many series which are popular today is that they are commonly watched on catch up TV which means that we don’t watch them at the same time.

So that was the demand side, what about the future challenges in terms of the UK’s generation mix? Last week saw the first time in over 150 years where there was no coal on the system. It’s true this didn’t feel any different to us as end users of electricity however it marks a change in the future generation mix and system balancing challenges National Grid are going to be facing. This is a system more dynamic and weather driven than ever before. With less spinning reserve on the grid, the system has to react much faster and this is why National Grid has put out a new tender ‘enhanced frequency response’ to have more plant and services that National Grid can call on with a sub 1 second response time.

I could go on…we covered so much and of course we got to take a peek at the control centre itself from the viewing gallery.

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