How voltage control can make energy networks more efficient

By Dr Vincent Thornley
Dr Vincent Thornley, Managing Director at Fundamentals, outlines the benefits of voltage reduction and reflects on trials involving UK smart meters

Data is often described as the new oil. But unlike fossil fuels, data can actually reduce carbon emissions by boosting the efficiency of the electricity network.

We have been taking part in a trial of new technology which uses the information gathered by a selected group of British customers’ smart meters to optimise the voltage in their homes. In simple terms, this means safely turning the voltage up or down to provide optimal energy efficiency. The experiment could save homes and businesses in the trial area an average of £20 on their annual bills and cut their carbon footprint by 27kg a year – which is the equivalent of driving 100km.

A voltage reduction of just 1% causes a corresponding electricity consumption reduction of 1%. Reducing voltage increases the capacity to connect generation to the network, which can
support low carbon uptake technology such as solar panels. The technology which powers voltage reduction also allows insights across the network, enabling providers to resolve problems before customers notice them, resulting in fewer complaints and higher levels of satisfaction.

In the long term, it is believed a national roll-out of the technology could trim £500m from customers’ energy bills every year and shave between 200,000 and two million tonnes of CO2 from the UK’s annual carbon footprint.

The Benefits of Voltage Regulation in energy network efficiency

Traditionally, households have received a higher voltage than is needed to power domestic devices. This means that homes across Britain receive a voltage that is above 230V. The voltage of a network is controlled at primary substations that feed large numbers of customers via hundreds of kilometres of network.

The voltage received by each household depends on the route their electricity takes through the network and the amount of power flowing through that route. It drops as it gets further away from the primary substation. To ensure voltage compliance, households are typically provided with a higher voltage than they need to power appliances.

Data provided by smart meters and the smart grid solve this problem. By providing a real-time picture of energy usage on the network, providers can deliver only the voltage customers need. Devices like refrigerators and washing machines do not need 230V to function properly, so could receive less voltage without suffering a dent in performance. And the lights will still shine brightly.

We expect the results of our trial will show that voltage reduction will reduce emissions, significantly improve voltage management and perhaps most importantly, increase how much new generation can be connected to the grid. The new oil is not going to be like the old oil.

Dr Vincent Thornley is Managing Director at Fundamentals, which is a power systems technology specialist, delivering innovative solutions which improve the health and performance of the grid.

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