Energy storage and smart cities

The urban centres of tomorrow will be microgrids which will require the support of energy storage technology say Dr Alex Mardipittas.

Energy storage and smart cities

Although there is no clear definition for a “smart city”, the European Commission – Digital Single Market states that, “A smart city is a place where the traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies for the benefit of its inhabitants and businesses. The concept goes beyond the use of ICT for better resource use and less emissions.”

From this definition it is clear that the priorities of a smart city are the same as any conventional city, which is to successfully manage and incorporate hard infrastructure. This includes; systems that control street lighting, road signals, water flow and crucially, the supply of energy to homes and businesses within local communities.

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A microgrid system

Within the Smart City, a microgrid system will offer users greater control and flexibility in their electrical supply. As the name implies, a microgrid is a scaled down version of current national electricity grids, the main difference being that the microgrid is powered by energy sources, including renewables that matches electricity supply with local demand rather than national demand.

Energy storage systems that capture energy and store it for later use are emerging as key enabling technologies to ensure electricity is delivered effectively within the microgrid. Connected users can switch to the supply at any time they wish, giving a constant and reliable supply of electricity.

Alongside, as Smart City research and development continues to emphasise the need to use renewable sources, energy storage solutions will help make the volatile nature of them – solar and wind for example generate little power if the sun doesn’t shine or wind doesn’t blow – reliable.

The technology has already been recognised by Government ministers as a vital technology to improve renewable energy reliability and in the 2016 budget, former Chancellor George Osborne set aside at least £50million towards promoting the development of energy storage solutions.

Microgrid – savings

With the restructuring and lowering of FIT subsidies earlier in the year, there is perhaps no better opportunity for renewable projects to become part of an integrated microgrid solution, in which energy is harnessed and provided to the final user through energy storage. The technology can allow users to access National Grid led incentives such as EDR (Electricity Demand Reduction), FFR (Firm Frequency Response) and STOR (Short Term Operating Reserves).

Companies can also use the ability of energy storage systems to monitor the availability of power, to their advantage. Switching a building or facility’s electricity supply to the energy storage device during periods of high tariffs can significantly lower energy costs.

Additional benefits include eliminating the use of inverters on renewable installations, which help reduce costs and improve return on investment and by providing full facility Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) for up to two hours during any electricity loss on the grid, it allows the need for a separate UPS systems to be negated.

Smart solution

Even though energy storage technology is in its infancy, it is emerging as one of the best solutions to address the growing concern that national energy grids are struggling to cope with the surge in demand for electricity, which continues to accelerate. In the UK peak demand on the grid is expected to increase six-fold by 2050.

Whether connected as part of smart city or not, energy storage systems are fast becoming the future of electrical distribution, not only in the UK, but around the world.


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