What goes into keeping the lights on

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"Liverpool" by Aaron Crowe is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

27 May 2016


The National Grid, as the body that is responsible for providing safe and reliable energy to millions of homes across the UK, is constantly looking ahead to identify possible challenges or issues that might affect the UK’s energy landscape.

In 2013, Ofgem identified a potential threat to National Grid’s ability to deliver an uninterrupted energy supply, caused by environmental and economic factors, as there was limited investment going into new power stations. In light of these concerns, National Grid set about working with TCS to control this risk and ensure a steady supply of energy in the coming years.

The importance of reliable power

Today’s energy market is increasingly complex, with providers always searching for efficient and renewable ways to generate power. It is a constantly shifting landscape, and any IT solution must be able to adapt continuously.

TCS’ Product Innovation and Management team worked with National Grid to design and create a novel solution to Ofgem’s concerns over the national electricity supply. To do this, they developed two new tools: Demand-Side Balancing Reserve (DSBR) and Supplemental Balancing Reserve (SBR).

DSBR was a tool developed to give consumers a way of reducing their electricity demands between 4pm and 8pm on winter weekdays, as requested by National Grid, shifting the energy load to standby generators. However, this was something solely created as a ‘last resort’ system when no other alternatives were available.

SBR instead utilises contracts already in place with reserve power stations that would otherwise be closed during winter weekdays, giving access to energy in the unlikely event of a shortfall in generating capacity.

To make the tools easier to use and to encourage take up of the service, TCS created a mobile app, allowing customers to control both systems remotely. In the event of power supply decreasing enough to use the ‘last resort’ DBSR, a message alert via SMS alerts the user, requesting that they shift their power consumption to a time outside of peak hours. Mobile phone activation allowed these systems to be built on existing infrastructure, meaning savings were made by both National Grid and their customers.

Powered by the cloud

To make the solutions a reality, TCS chose to build them using cloud technology, on a platform called Salesforce1. This allowed for early prototype ideas to be developed rapidly, making it possible to move new solutions from concept to trial and testing far quicker. This made way for greater flexibility and gave the TCS team the chance to find the best solution more quickly.

In this case, initial tests were completed in June 2014 and were ready for use by December – just six months from its conception. The end result was a state-of-the-art project and the first time that cloud technology has been used to support part of Britain's critical infrastructure.

Article by Shankar Narayanan

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