Matthew Williams, founder & chief technology officer, Faraday Grid Electricity transmission/distribution, Energy networks, Energy storage, Interconnection, Smart grids, Opinion

A flexible energy system that lets renewables flourish, not expensive nuclear power, will keep the lights on says Matthew Williams.

Until recently the UK government’s future energy plans relied heavily on expensive new nuclear power plants to provide baseload capacity as old fossil fuel plants shut down.

However, over the past decade, a significant amount of generation has shifted away from centralised thermal baseload-generation that traditionally provided the power and stability the system requires. At the same time, the cost of the energy from renewables has dropped dramatically. So why has this transition to cleaner and cheaper electricity generation not brought lower prices for consumers? The answer is the electricity system itself, which was never designed for this new world of distributed renewable energy.

Certain aspects of the future energy landscape seem clear. Renewables are the energy sources to be favoured instead of their fossil counterparts, to address the pressing environmental issues we face. However, how do we manage the delicate balance of supply and demand with such a large number of distributed variable and volatile generation sources in a rapidly evolving energy system?

We are continuing to change the way we use electricity, with more demanding digital devices and the rise of electric vehicles. How can we compensate for the stability of inertia and frequency-response lost with the closure or cancellation of thermal and nuclear generation?

Our outdated grid has fundamentally not changed in more than 100 years. It was designed for centralised generation supply and balanced by the ability to control the flexible output of large generation plants. Improvements have been limited to expensive add-on technologies that increase complexity and don’t address the core problem.

We need a new architecture for the electricity system where the centre of control is the grid itself, rather than relying solely on balancing from dispatchable thermal generation. The Faraday Grid is enabled through the Faraday Exchanger – a drop-in replacement for existing transformers that are reaching the end of their useful lives, enabling dynamic balancing and smoothing of bi-directional power flow in the existing energy system.

With a quarter of UK load operating as a Faraday Grid, the system would be able to provide the same inertial power and frequency control as the cancelled nuclear reactors at Moorside and Wylfa combined. And it enables twice the amount of renewable generation in the electricity system, reduces losses in the network, and allows 25 per cent more usable electricity to be delivered through the same wires.