Power Potential: Finding new ways to manage reactive power

Power Potenital, a world first innovation project, aims to create a new reactive power market for distributed energy resources (DERs) and generate additional capacity on the network.

The project, funded by Ofgem through the Network Innovation Competition (NIC) and in partnership with the Distribution Network Operator UK Power Networks, is exploring whether sources of generation connected to the distribution network can provide key services to the transmission network, such as dynamic voltage control. This is where reactive power is needed at short notice to maintain voltage, either pre fault or following a fault, to ensure safe and secure operation of the system.

Why is it important?

Renewable energy from sources including wind turbines and solar panels are pleasing an increasing role in the electricity network. In regions across the UK, more and more distributed generation using renewables as alternatives to traditional fossil fuels have come online.

We believe that these Distributed Energy Resources (DER), connected to the distribution networks, have the potential to provide important reactive and active power services to the power grid.

Without delving too deeply into the complicated mechanics of this, these are vital services that help us keep the grid stable and ensure power flows reliably to UK homes and businesses. So with this project, we’re really aiming to show that large volumes of power from these sources can be effectively absorbed into the power network.

Importantly, the project is an example of collaborating more closely with Distribution Network Operators as we aim to prove that a joined-up, whole-system approach can be beneficial for everyone from network operators to generators to end consumers.

It’s our belief that by connecting more distributed energy sources, we’ll be able to better manage the current constraints on the system, making it more stable and affordable to run, while creating new opportunities for distributed energy businesses.

What have we achieved so far?

Power Potential is a three-year project, focussing first on the South East through our project partner UK Power Networks. This is a complex and challenging region for us to operate, with capacity challenges for both exporting and importing power from the rest of the transmission system.

Right from the outset the project has seen exciting trials of using new technology to provide reactive power, including solar panels adjusting their technology to be able to help balance the grid at night time, and tests of using batteries for reactive power too.

The next stage is developing a market of new services that can be provided by DER. It’s too soon to say exactly what these will be, but we’d foresee they’ll include local services such as pre- and post-fault reactive support, as well as broader system-wide services, such as balancing products. We are expecting to start ’live’ trials at end of March and look forward to seeing the results.

The potential

As its name suggests, this project is all about unlocking unexploited potential. Once the work is complete, we believe we’ll have resolved many of the existing transmission constraints we face. We’ll have improved system stability and reduced operational costs considerably. If successful, the new model could be introduced to 59 other regions, potentially saving an estimated £412m for UK consumers by 2050.