Innovative electricity system balancing tool in Britain

A new cutting-edge tool developed in collaboration with Scottish university researchers is helping revolutionise the real time balancing of Britain’s electricity network.

Energy experts at the University teamed up with the Electricity System Operator (ESO) to design an optimisation tool which paves the way for net-zero electricity system operation in Great Britain. It enables the control room to make better use of the most economic service providers, including fast-response batteries.

To maintain a balance between electricity generation and demand, the ESO operates an hour-ahead market known as the Balancing Mechanism (BM). The first phase of the Open Balancing Platform (OBP), developed as part of the ESO’s existing programme of operational improvement, is supporting transformation of system balancing by allowing control room engineers to send instructions to hundreds of balancing units in each battery and small BM unit (BMU) zone across Britain at the touch of a single button.

In the past, balancing electricity generation and demand involved sending dispatch instructions to several large generators. Greater numbers of smaller generators including fast-response batteries are participating increasingly in the BM market. The addition of these assets brings about potential cost savings, but also an increased number of dispatch instructions and greater system operation complexity.

Strathclyde developed an early-stage proof of concept within the MDI (Modernised Dispatch Instructor) project, a collaboration between the University and the ESO. This work helped identify the system requirements and form a view on the approach to bulk dispatch optimisation. Building on Strathclyde research, a mathematical optimisation tool, referred to as the Bulk Dispatch Optimiser (BDO) has been created for control room engineers. It became operational in the Electricity National Control Centre (ENCC) in December 2023.

The ENCC is Great Britain’s central hub for operation of the national electricity system, moving electricity around the country from where it’s generated to where it’s used and ensuring that supply and demand are balanced minute-by-minute.

Bulk dispatch gives control room users a proposed set of optimised instructions based on the lowest cost solution, subject to BMU constraints.  Previously, engineers had to manually instruct each action on each unit and check BM rule compliance. With bulk dispatch, instructions can be sent at the press of a single button, significantly reducing the number of manual instructions and time taken to instruct small BMUs and batteries, ultimately optimising network balancing and delivering value for consumers.

Dr Waqquas Bukhsh, a specialist in Power Systems Optimisation, led Strathclyde’s input to the project. He said: “The variability of wind and solar power mean that the system operator needs to be much more agile than in the past. However, they also now have many more options for how to balance the system, including using batteries that have come down massively in cost in the last few years. The trick is knowing how to make best use of all the different options. That’s what our mathematical expertise has been able to do.