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Business Energy: How to banish power cuts

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By George Dale, Business Development Manager (Merchant Wind)
13 May 2024

For most of us in Britain, an electricity outage – a power cut – is simply a nuisance. The router goes off, the lights go off, the kettle goes off. If you’re working from home, it’s time to hotspot your laptop from your phone. If it’s past sunset, it’s time to find a torch or even some old-fashioned candles and matches. 

Most power cuts last a few minutes at most but what happens if it stays off for hours or overnight? The fridge warms up, spoiling your fresh food. Your mobile phone runs out of power, so communication is suddenly tricky. If it’s winter, you better have a stove, because the central heating, even if gas powered, needs electricity for the pump. 

If the power stays off for a month, as it did in parts of Scotland last winter, can your tenants cope?

shocks pt2
Power cuts and renewables 

If your buildings are powered by solar panels or a wind turbine, your tenants might believe that they’re covered for any electricity outages that might come their way. 

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Unless you have a battery as part of your renewable system, your electricity generation will be limited to when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.  

However, even with a battery, most renewable installations will stop providing electricity during a power cut. They shut off to stop feeding power into the wider grid, to ensure the safety of technicians who are working to repair the original problem.  

The way around this, to keep utilising the power that your renewables are generating even in a power cut, is to implement a Full Grid-Backup System that cuts the premises off from the grid until there mains voltage is restored at the point of connection.  

Making the right choices for your tenants 

The national grid is under greater strain than ever before, owing to the need to upgrade its capacity to achieve net zero. Offering your tenants a renewables system that covers outages is a significant saleable benefit, but you need to make a decision on the level of cover that you’ll offer. 

Will you simply provide corridor lighting for outages? Or would you like to give each home one socket to charge phones, laptops and other devices? And provide for essentials such as dialysis machines and sleep apnoea pumps? And what about supplying power to the central heating pump? As the requirements go up, the amount of wiring work and the size of the battery you’ll need go up as well. 

The highest specification you might offer would be full backup of the usual electrical load. That means a big battery and sufficient generation to keep it topped up. And it may mean a battery in each property. Clearly, this is the most expensive option but there are those who are prepared to pay for it.

sainsburys
Solar or wind? 

As a rule of thumb, you can think in terms of 2000kWh per person per year as average domestic usage, excluding heating. 

The demands of heating systems vary considerably. A flat in a new block, with gas, won’t need much electricity. A Georgian detached house in Keswick, with 12-foot ceilings, bricked-up fireplaces and a heat pump, will consume a huge amount, mostly in winter. 

When it comes to solar generation, a well-sited 1kWp PV installation will produce 1000kWh over the course of a year. However, a winter month - December or January - will give one sixth of the summer monthly output. For wind generation, a kW of horizontal axis wind turbine in a favourable location could produce 1300kWh in a year, mostly between October and March. However, both depend on location and need proper modelling.  

The weather in Britain is famously changeable, so a combination of wind and solar is always best where practicable to generate the overall target figure. And on average, solar generates more in summer, while wind works best in winter.   

Working out what you need for a full backup system 

Designing a system to cover grid outages requires careful consideration and modelling of your generation system, location, heating systems, expected electrical loads and battery capacity.

Installations can be almost any size, in theory. It would be technically possible to set up a local grid across a housing development or a whole village and feed into this grid with a turbine, solar panels and a battery, behind a central meter. The bigger it is, the more complex it becomes in terms of legalities, billing, management systems and engineering. But there are economies of scale, compared to multiple smaller installations.

Where you have whole-building generation - panels on a block of flats, for instance - with sub-metering, you have the option of providing Grid Backup with a central battery for a whole block or by using individual batteries. If you choose a central battery, you may need a management system to monitor and control usage. 

It’s important to note that none of the options above are ‘Off Grid’, as matching demand with supply would normally be managed by the grid connection. Rather, they are metered (and possibly sub-metered) grid-connected installations with renewable generation and battery backup, which are capable of ‘islanding’ in power cuts.

Not everyone needs a system like this, but if grid outages are common or potentially catastrophic, a full backup system may be essential. The likes of server centres and hospitals already have similar systems in place, but generally use legacy diesel generators and non-interruptible power supplies rather than today’s renewables and batteries. 

At Ecotricity, we offer installation and provision of deep green, time-stamped electricity. Whether through our Merchant Wind or Merchant Solar services or by directing you to trusted partners, we aim to help businesses reduce bills and mitigate price shocks.

To explore options for placing your generation behind the meter, contact us today at 0345 600 1994 or email us at business.sales@ecotricity.co.uk.

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