Trial to replace diesel generators in temporary power restoration unveiled

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Northern Powergrid has partnered with British energy storage SMEs Hyperdrive Innovation and Offgrid Energy to run a trial which could revolutionise temporary power restoration in the UK.

The Silent Power project will see electric vans with on-board energy storage systems quietly and cleanly restore power to customers who become vulnerable during a power cut or essential maintenance work.

“Traditional diesel generators have been great at restoring power to keep vulnerable customers safer and more comfortable during a power cut. However, the noise and air-pollution means there are limits to where they can be deployed,” explained Ross McFarlane, Innovation Project Manager for Northern Powergrid, the district network operator responsible for electricity distribution in the North East and Yorkshire.

“Alongside the direct customer benefit, we are very excited by the wider positive environmental impact of this trial. Many industries need temporary power supplies, if this can be shared across other sectors, we have another way to bring more renewable sources into our energy mix.”

Up to three homes or a small community centre could be powered with just one van for 24 hours or longer if those homes have domestic solar generation.  Training was completed earlier this year and the first vehicle will be on the streets of Northern Powergrid’s operating area this month.

Director of Public Services and Policy at Inspired Energy, Georgina Penfold commented: “with the tightening of regulations on air quality and emissions from mobile plant through statutory instruments like the medium combustion plant directive, it is great to see Northern Powergrid leading on innovative ways to provide resilience without adding to the air pollution problem. As an organisation which works with a lot of housing associations, we are also delighted to see the Network Operators looking at how to meet their obligations to protect vulnerable customers whilst also supporting innovation into the market. Socially and environmentally, this is a great move from Northern Powergrid.”

The Silent Power batteries not only help solve access and air quality issues common to diesel generation deployment but also aim to be more reliable. Diesel generators  can often trip out, particularly when customers have their own domestic generation, typically rooftop solar which is commonly found on social housing.

Northern Powergrid currently deploys more than 2,500 diesel generators annually to provide temporary power restoration during planned and unplanned power cuts each year.

More than 20% of Northern Powergrid’s customer-base is on the Priority Services Register – a service provided by suppliers and network operators to customers who may need extra support in a power cut – and 12% of those on the register are medically dependant on electricity.

“There is considerable opportunity for Silent Power to reduce the impact of power cuts for vulnerable people across our region, while also improving the air we all breathe and reducing noise pollution,” said Patrick Erwin, Policy and Markets Director at Northern Powergrid. “This is just one way we are demonstrating our commitment to ensuring the energy transition works for all people across our society – not just those that can afford the latest technology.”

Hyperdrive, an innovative designer and manufacturer of lithium-ion battery systems, and Offgrid Energy, a specialist developer of hybrid generator systems, collaborated with Northern Powergrid on the project.

The Silent Power vans are a turnkey solution; fully contained within a single vehicle. The prototype 40kVA battery inverter generator unit was developed by the team. The electric vans’ lithium ion batteries are silent during operation.

Patrick Erwin, Policy and Markets Director at Northern Powergrid, went onto say: “Traditional generators cannot accept power input from customers’ generation, which can happen at times of low load, as they were only designed to output power. The Silent Power battery solution can. This is becoming ever more important with rooftop solar installations throughout electricity networks. It means we don’t waste green energy that otherwise would be lost.”

During the two-year trial, Northern Powergrid and its partners will assess the usability, benefits and economic viability of the battery inverter generator units. The electricity distributor, which is hoping to see a reduction in overall CO2 output when compared with current generators, plans to share the findings with its fellow electricity Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) across the UK, as they continue the transition to become increasingly active Distribution System Operators (DSO).

“The UK battery and storage industry is on the cusp of significant growth and we are now starting to identify ways in which the lives of everyday people can be enhanced with technology like ours,” commented Stephen Irish, CEO of Hyperdrive. “Projects like Silent Power are bringing bold British innovation to the doorstep of every household and we are proud to be involved. Despite much political uncertainty at the moment, it’s reassuring that this blossoming high-tech sector can not only drive UK jobs and growth but can become the backbone of good old-fashioned community support delivered by the team at Northern Powergrid.”

Danny Jones, director of OffGrid Energy added: “The Silent Power project has been a great opportunity to take our low carbon power solutions to another level, adding a further dimension in driving out emissions from the electricity networks. Working with Northern Powergrid has been a great experience for us at Off Grid where their vision and support has enabled us to push boundaries in ways that would not have otherwise been possible.”