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Grid resilience: helping economies save billions

Energy security is a growing concern for economies across the world with electricity outages currently costing economies billions of dollars annually, driving electricity prices up. The US experienced nearly 700 power outages caused by severe weather between 2003 and 2012, costing the country up to US$70 billion annually.

Grid resilience is essential for economies to function economically, socially and politically. The need for action to ensure high levels of grid resilience in the future is increasing – developing countries require secure power supplies if they are to continue to grow their economies, while in Europe and North America, electricity production and distribution are undergoing significant restructuring.

There are numerous examples of blackouts globally which have come at huge economic cost. In January 2008, global commodity prices rose by 5% internationally after a blackout in South Africa led to three of the country’s largest gold mines and two of its biggest platinum mines to temporarily close.

A robotic manufacturing facility owned by Toshiba experienced a 0.4 second outage, which caused each robot to become asynchronous with the grid; thus short-circuiting innumerable chips and circuits. The company spent the next three months reprogramming each robot, leading to an estimated economic loss of US$500 million.

In the summer of 2011, China faced substantial power shortages. The severity of these blackouts dwarfs experiences in the United States. In 2004, China’s eastern electricity grid (an area including Shanghai) alone curtailed over 13,000,000MWh, accounting for over two percent of annual consumption. In comparison, the rolling blackouts of California’s crisis in 2000-2001 curtailed less than one-1000th that amount of power.

International electricity grid reliability. Image: The Brattle Group, Galvin Power Institute, Council of European Energy Regulations, China Southern Power Grid.
In the UK, the government’s House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, under the Chairmanship of John Palmer, the Earl of Selborne, is conducting an inquiry into the resilience of electricity infrastructure which includes energy storage. The Committee fully recognise storage as a key component for reinforcing the grid and its role for aiding a greater uptake of renewable generation, increasing spare capacity and improving flexibility.

Energy storage is a key component for energy security as it offers the ability to balance supply and demand while protecting the grid from “stress events” such as electricity outages. Furthermore, the introduction of energy storage in substations can decrease the need and cost of traditional reinforcement, such as transformers and cabling. For example, at Europe’s largest Lithium-Ion battery trial at Leighton Buzzard, a fully automated 6MW/10MWh battery storage project, installed by S&C Electric Europe Ltd., is expected to save distribution network operator (DNO) UK Power Networks approximately £6m (US$9.12 million) over 15 years over traditional reinforcement methods.

We are entering an "interesting period for electricity networks around the globe," Andrew Jones of S&C Electric says. Image: wikimedia user: dingy
Advanced Distribution Automation (ADA) is a lesser known technology that plays a key role in increasing resilience; by detecting power outages (e.g. caused by storms) and using smart switches to “cordon off” affected areas to minimise disruption to the rest of the network. An example in the US is the Tennessee Electric Power Board (EPB), which serves 170,000 customers and lost around US$100 million annually due to power outage costs. Using S&C’s self-healing ADA technology, EPB achieved a 60 percent outage reduction from 2011 to June 2013. During 2012, when major storms caused severe damage to grid infrastructure, EPB experienced a 55% reduction in duration of outages, saving EPB US$1.4 million in operational cost savings in a single event.

We are entering an interesting period for electricity networks across the globe as economies develop and restructure their grids, however if these economies are to experience sustainable growth, energy security will be a vital component. The experience of past electricity outages have demonstrated the huge economic costs and the essential need for smarter grid technologies such as energy storage and ADA to reinforce electricity networks.    

S&C Electric has been involved in the installation of Europe's largest battery energy storage system, in Leighton Buzzard, England. Image: S&C Electric.

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