£2m Smart Grid Laboratory at Newcastle

September 22, 2014 by Jeff Shepard

A state-of-the-art laboratory that will allow researchers to put the electricity grid through its paces – simulating events such as power cuts due to severe weather – has been opened at Newcastle University. Funded jointly by Siemens Energy Automation Division and the University, the £2m Smart Grid Laboratory will allow experts to test future worst case scenarios in real-time without any risk to customers. By simulating changes in energy across the grid – both on a day to day basis as well as in extreme cases such as when part of the network is damaged following a storm – the aim is to further understand the demands on the system.

The technology will also be used to test how the anticipated electrification of the UK’s heat and transport networks will affect the grid. The rise in heat pumps and electric vehicles, together with the growing importance of solar panels for energy generation, will mean increased energy flows through the electricity grid which could push the ageing system towards its limits.

Dr Pádraig Lyons, Senior Smart Grids Researcher at Newcastle University, explains: “This new lab will allow us to push the system to these limits without putting the network and customers’ supply at risk. Computer models are good to a point, but they lack the realism to mimic constantly changing energy flows across the grid and state-of-the-art intelligent network control systems. With this new technology we are virtually linked up to the grid so the second by second fluctuations across the real network are also happening in real-time in our lab.

“We will be able to test a really tough day in a future scenario and then run it again and again under different conditions and with different energy demands to understand how the existing grid and a future intelligent grid would react and how we can overcome any problems before they happen in the real world,”

The lab at the University’s campus is part of a larger Smart Grid project which includes a grid-scale energy storage test bed being developed on Science Central - a major regeneration project being led by Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council and a center of excellence on urban innovation and sustainability. Experts from the University, in collaboration with Siemens and Northern Powergrid, will be trialing new technologies for energy storage to efficiently and sustainably manage delivery of energy across the UK electricity grid.

Commenting on Siemens’ support for this initiative, Dr Bernd Koch, Director of Siemens Microgrids, said: “With energy demand increasing, and new forms of energy generation like renewables becoming more widely used in the UK, it is obvious that we need to make sure that the corresponding energy infrastructure is able to cope.

“The partnership we have established with Newcastle University, and the research that will be carried out in this new facility, will help us to do just that. What we learn can then be used to help in the development of new technologies and solutions to energy management, which will have the potential to benefit us all in the future,” concluded Dr. Koch.