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How we’re working with distributed generation

How Unison's Working with Distributed Generation

We’re constantly looking at future energy trends, and how they might impact our network.

We have identified that electric vehicles, distributed generation and battery storage are three emerging technologies that could change the way customers interact with our network, so we’re researching what those impacts might be, and how we can manage our network to harness any benefits and minimise any challenges these technologies may present.

While historically solar panels have been too expensive for the average homeowner, evolving technology and the economies of scale achieved through increasing demand mean that solar generation and distributed generation are becoming a more affordable and economic source of electricity.

There are a number of benefits to renewable generation like solar panels, including:

  • it’s a renewable form of electricity,
  • it’s low maintenance,
  • it requires minimal attention by the homeowner,
  • reduces traditional monthly electricity costs, and
  • typically, it adds value to a residential property.

There are however a few drawbacks with solar (nothing’s perfect!). Solar panels only produce electricity when the sun is shining, so:

  • They produce no output at night, and
  • If it’s a wet or cloudy day, less electricity is produced making the supply less reliable.

However, by introducing battery energy storage into the package, together with grid-supply from your electricity retailer, these drawbacks can be minimised. Energy produced by the panels during the day can be stored for use later, allowing solar power to be used at night. This also has the effect of reducing the peak load for Unison as the electricity distributor during high demand times, such as breakfast and dinner times when everyone is drawing electricity for cooking, showering etc.

Energy Storage - Batteries

One of our major areas of research is around energy storage – the batteries that can be installed to save the energy being generated on a hot sunny day for use at night or during peak demand when electricity costs are at their most expensive. While battery storage has been uneconomic and also potentially detrimental to the environment, continuing developments in technology are reducing the cost of the units and also making the battery technology more environmentally friendly.

The electricity flows of a Distributed Generation installation need to be well managed for the value to the customer to be maximised. To achieve this, a Smart Energy management system needs to interact with each of the technological components that make up the package – the solar panels, battery management system, the local grid operating system and potentially smart appliances that may be present in the household and available to add to the overall load management options.

In addition to storing power for the home owner to use, battery storage also enables the customer to return any excess energy they have generated back to the network and receive a payment for it from their energy retailer.

This can also help off-set peak demand for Unison as the electricity distributor, but it can also present challenges in terms of managing power quality. This is particularly important for protecting expensive residential and industrial equipment from damage caused by drops in power quality.