Almost all the electricity currently produced in the UK is generated as part of a centralised power system designed around large fossil fuel or nuclear power stations. This power system is robust and reliable but the efficiency of power generation is low, resulting in large quantities of waste heat. The principal aim of this paper is to investigate an alternative concept: the energy production by small scale generators in close proximity to the energy users, integrated into microgrids. Microgrids - de-centralised electricity generation combined with on-site production of heat - bear the promise of substantial environmental benefits, brought about by a higher energy efficiency and by facilitating the integration of renewable sources such as photovoltaic arrays or wind turbines. By virtue of good match between generation and load, microgrids have a low impact on the electricity network, despite a potentially significant level of generation by intermittent energy sources. The paper discusses the technical and economic issues associated with this novel concept, giving an overview of the generator technologies, the current regulatory framework in the UK, and the barriers that have to be overcome if microgrids are to make a major contribution to the UK energy supply. The focus of this study is a microgrid of domestic users powered by small Combined Heat and Power generators and photovoltaics. Focusing on the energy balance between the generation and load, it is found that the optimum combination of the generators in the microgrid- consisting of around 1.4 kWp PV array per household and 45% household ownership of micro-CHP generators- will maintain energy balance on a yearly basis if supplemented by energy storage of 2.7 kWh per household. We find that there is no fundamental technological reason why microgrids cannot contribute an appreciable part of the UK energy demand. Indeed, an estimate of cost indicates that the microgrids considered in this study would supply electricity at a cost comparable with the present electricity supply if the current support mechanisms for photovoltaics were maintained. Combining photovoltaics and micro-CHP and a small battery requirement gives a microgrid that is independent of the national electricity network. In the short term, this has particular benefits for remote communities but more wide-ranging possibilities open up in the medium to long term. Microgrids could meet the need to replace current generation nuclear and coal fired power stations, greatly reducing the demand on the transmission and distribution network.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment