Factories could be paid to operate at night-time to use up spare electricity from wind farms and cut down on the millions of pounds in compensation paid for wind turbines to switch off.
National Grid said it was considering whether some industrial and commercial businesses could be paid to shift power demand to a different time – such as at night, when “demand is lower, but the wind is still blowing” – in order to “make better use of renewables”.
The Grid said this could be “cheaper than constraining the generation” through so-called ‘constraint payments’, which compensate wind farm owners for switching them off when National Grid’s electricity transmission cables are unable to cope with the level of power the turbines are producing, such as when it is unusually windy.
Wind farm operators were paid £7.6m in 2012-13 in constraint payments, but that total has already risen to £27.9m so far for 2013-14, as more wind farms are built.
Many of the UK’s wind farms are concentrated in Scotland, while power demand is much higher in England. Normally, the wind power is used up through a combination of demand near the wind farms in Scotland and also exporting it via cables to England.
However, there is insufficient cable capacity to transmit all the electricity that could be produced by the wind farms in very windy weather. That problem gets worse at night-time when Scottish demand near the wind farm falls as businesses close for the night, leaving even more available to export south.
A National Grid spokesman said: “This service is about looking at where energy, that would otherwise be constrained, could be consumed by businesses who have shifted their demand to a different time of day.
“So for example, if there was too much power within a certain boundary (that can’t be moved because of capacity constraints) this new service would mean this power could be used by that particular business, rather than constrained.
“The thinking is that such contracts would be cheaper than constraining the generation.
“As system operator, we want to make sure we operate the grid and efficiently and economically as possible. If there is a possibility to reduce those costs, and make the best use of wind on the system, then we will.”
National Grid said the plans were at an early stage. “There is no saying that this service will go ahead, detail still needs to be worked out and we have no information on costs,” a spokesman said.
An industry source told Process Engineering, which first disclosed the plans: “It needs to be useful electricity, such as moving when you pump water to holding tanks from mid-afternoon to the middle of the night.
“It can’t just be turning on the office lights at night.”
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