It’s no secret that Q4 is the most energy-hungry period of the year. Reliance on our power infrastructure is critical to fire us through the colder, darker months. Yet as more industrial assets spark up, our energy-related vulnerabilities are exposed. We’re accelerating towards the most wonderful time of the year with underlying currents of unease being felt industry-wide. The combination of an ongoing energy price crisis with tumultuous disruptions to supply chains means manufacturers, retailers, and energy providers are firefighting mass difficulties during the biggest buying boom period. A bleak forecast has been cast over the coming months; can we ensure light during the darkest days?
A Grid under pressure
It goes without saying that our needs from the Grid established nearly 100 years ago have somewhat changed. Given the turbulence of energy supply and demand over the last 21months, the Grid is increasingly being pushed to its limit.
The Grid can only run with stability if the amount of power streamed in matches the amount that is streamed out. Behavioural shifts during the pandemic (like WFH and the closure ofnon-essential manufacturers) caused too much power generation. Local energy grids wereoverloaded; power congestion is one of the key contributors to blackouts.
And now, the tables have turned again. The wider workforce are back in their energy-hungry city centre offices. Manufacturers have re-opened, and are operating at full-throttle to make up for lost time. From vehicles to building, almost anything and everything is being electrified, with demand for power surging like never before. How much longer will the risk of the Grid’s stability truly faltering be an ‘if’ rather than a ‘when’?
Granted, the Grid carries reserve power that can be used to fill unexpected, short-term electrical trips. Sure, a 5 minute power cut in the home isn’t too drastic. But take a 5 minutepower cut to both food and pharmaceutical manufacturers; a sudden blackout would send a mass amount of produce and products that rely on temperature-sensitive storage to waste. Shelves are barer, and critical medications for patients are lost.
Increasing energy resilience
It’s imperative to re-evaluate our energy use and sources to establish a more resilient energy system. And the irony of relying on a changing climate to generate renewable energy to reduce climate change isn’t lost on us. For example, between April and June this year, the UK saw renewable wind energy generation fall due to less favourable conditions.
However, it’s important to remember that there will still have been some seriously windy days. There can never be ‘too much’ renewable energy generate, i.e. wind, as long as we know how to store it. Looking at such solutions is key to advancing renewable power generation. Having excess energy stores lets us discharge energy in line with changing conditions, say, when the wind isn’t blowing. To the industrial sector in particular, the ability to store energy via batteries and release it during peak demand and production times is an invaluable asset. Certain processes may require additional energy boots; energy stores are fast-acting, helping to ensure power resilience alongside operational continuity.
Utilising the IIoT
The emergence of ‘smart’ factories in conjunction with Industry 4.0 shines a bright light on enhancing energy resilience. There’s a whole Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) out there just waiting to be explored. For instance, the IoT helps users to gain overall visibility and control of their energy flow, by connecting and monitoring the elements involved in power production and consumption. Such tracking helps to identify energy inefficiencies, and also unlocks efficiencies.
Knowledge is power and having full transparency across your power distribution helps to mitigate energy-related vulnerabilities. The ability to go off-grid will be key to the industry moving forwards. Through IoT platforms, businesses can connect their assets to AI-enabled platforms which intelligently turn them ‘on’ and ‘off’ in accordance to a range of conditions. From the weather to power patterns to real-time grid capacity, the IoT helps to lessen pressure on shared energy supplies, increasing overall power stability.
Self-generating power via renewables and alternative energy sources decreases reliance on the grid, helping businesses to become more self-sufficient. In light of disruptions, like grid power outages and extreme weather, organisations have the ability to quickly restore functions after disruptions on their own terms. Overall business function resiliency increases as the effects of power loss are lessened.
In addition, the power demands of a variety of assets differs. Sensor-based technology can monitor weather conditions and automate responses accordingly. For example, on sunnier days where ample power is being generated via a business’s solar panels, their energy supply can be switched from the grid to the renewables.
Taking deliberate actions to enhance reliability through planning and technology will help to establish energy systems that address and mitigate risks. During a period of radical transformation and despite the winter months, there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel. It’s time to accelerate towards it.
About the Author: Jordan Appleson, CEO of the cloud-based Hark Platform that monitors, stores, and analyses sensor data in real-time. Hark’s award-winning technology is helping to revolutionise and advance energy analytics and industrial IoT across a variety of sectors, including retail. Two of the UK’s top four supermarkets are currently using Hark’stechnology to manage energy, monitor asset performance, action preventative maintenance, and buildautomation.