Why more UK businesses are turning to microgrids for energy resilience

By SARAH KEELEY

With energy bills on the rise, businesses across the UK are looking more closely at their energy management strategies to identify opportunities for cost savings, resilience and decarbonisation. Microgrids are becoming an increasingly attractive solution for businesses and local communities, allowing them to rely less on the main grid and to integrate more renewable energy into their operations. 

In this post, we’ll look at the benefits of microgrids paired with energy storage and some UK businesses who are already seeing the benefits of microgrids. 

What is a microgrid? 

A microgrid is a small-scale electrical grid with its own power system that can operate separate from or alongside the electric grid. Microgrids can deliver power to commercial buildings, residential communities, hospitals and factories. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the main grid to enable it to operate in grid-connected or island-mode.  

What is driving the growth of microgrids? 

This growth of microgrids is primarily being driven by: 


What are the benefits of microgrids?
 

Microgrids can provide many economic, resilience and sustainability benefits over centralised generation systems. 

Economics & energy efficiency:  

Reliability & resilience:

Sustainability:

Energy storage and microgrids  

For microgrid developments, energy storage plays a key role in the successful integration of renewable sources to prevent outages. Energy storage systems support the reliable, resilient, and cost-effective operation of microgrids, helping to balance generation and load, integrate intermittent renewables, and provide an opportunity for earning additional revenue through grid services. 

At present, the majority of microgrids rely heavily on diesel generators to ensure an uninterrupted power supply. But with major concerns in the UK around air quality, more businesses and communities are installing energy storage systems as a sustainable alternative to guarantee safety and reliability standards. 

The UK microgrid market is nascent, however there are significant policy, technology and economic enablers driving the growth of the market. Here we look at some UK businesses and communities already tackling energy challenges with microgrids and energy storage.

Isle of Eigg Electrification Project

The Hebridean Isle of Eigg, located about 10 miles off the coast of Scotland, boasts a high penetration of renewable energy. In 2008, the Isle of Eigg became the world’s first community to launch an off-grid electric system powered by wind, hydro and solar. Before setting up the microgrid, with no access to the central grid, the islands 90 inhabitants were highly dependent on noisy and expensive diesel generators. As part of the microgrid project, power is generated via a solar PV system, three hydro generation systems and a wind farm consisting of four 6kW wind turbines. A battery storage system and standby diesel generator guarantee round the clock power for the island’s residents. The project was highly successful at integrating multiple renewable sources into the island-wide community system, and reducing diesel generator use. With the microgrid infrastructure in place, the population of the island has grown to more than 300 inhabitants.

Isle of Eigg wind turbines

London City Airport 

Alongside its energy infrastructure partner, UK Power Networks, London City Airport is working to install a microgrid that combines solar, combined heat and power, and smart automation software to enhance the airport’s energy security and resilience while at the same time reducing infrastructure costs. The impetus for the project was also to help improve the air quality surrounding the airport and meet London’s citywide decarbonisation goals. Once complete, the microgrid is expected to double the size of the airport’s electrical distribution infrastructure. After Atlanta Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, experienced a blackout in 2017, many airports in the UK and beyond are considering installing microgrids to avoid a similar scenario. 

London City Airport

Colchester Northern Gateway 

Colchester Amphora Energy Ltd is developing a microgrid for a new mixed-use development in Colchester known as Colchester Northern Gateway, which comprises 650 homes, a number of offices and a small hospital. The development is due to include 4.5 MW of ground-mounted PV panels, rising further to 8 MW after 12 months, but there are also plans to install rooftop-mounted panels and solar carports. 

As part of the project, Cheesecake Energy will be installing a fleet of energy storage systems in Amphora’s microgrid.  

The systems will:  

– Maximise the utilization of PV electricity 

– Reduce energy costs 

– Increase the microgrid’s reliability and resilience 

– Enable the microgrid to offer balancing services to the wider electricity network.  

By the end of the project, Colchester Council’s microgrid will have an overall energy storage capacity of 22 MWh with a duration of 10 hrs (i.e.~ 2.25 MW discharge power)  

The site is in an area of significant grid constraints, and as such the new development is facing major costs for grid upgrades to be able to connect new load. The installation of Cheesecake Energy’s systems at the Council site will reduce delays and major costs associated with upgrading the grid connection. 

Render of CEL eTanker system at Colchester site

A number of financial and legal hurdles still stand in the way of accelerating microgrid deployment in the UK. However, with the success of these projects and the cost of renewables and energy storage falling, we expect microgrids to become more in demand and commercially viable at some point in the very near future. 

Cheesecake Energy is working with a number of businesses developing microgrid projects to help reduce their energy bills and achieve their decarbonisation goals. Have a project in mind? Get in touch with us today. 

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