Silent Power - a trial project designed for efficiency, reliability and sustainability

Ross McFarlane, Innovation Project Manager at Northern Powergrid, describes how a ground-breaking project he led is designed to make temporary power supply efficient, reliable and sustainable.

Why is Northern Powergrid central to our regional response to climate change?

Northern Powergrid is at the very heart of Yorkshire & the Humber’s response to climate change. The Distribution Network Operator is responsible for managing, maintaining and investing in the electricity network that powers everyday life across the region. This network is central to the response to climate change as huge sections of our lives – including heating and transport – seek to remove reliance of fossil fuels by using electricity.

What is the Silent Power project, and why did you do it?

We play a critical role in ensuring a swift and accelerated transition to a low carbon economy for the region. In doing so, we must re-evaluate operations to ensure they align with net-zero ambitions by making them as sustainable as possible. One key focus area was our approach to temporary power restoration. This is when we use a back-up power source during unplanned power cuts, or when people cannot be without power during a planned maintenance power cut, due to reasons such as medical equipment depending on electricity.

Why are diesel generators no longer the best solution?

We typically deploy around 2,500 diesel generators every year to temporarily restore power, which cause both air and noise pollution in our customers’ communities. Importantly, diesel is not sustainable because it is a fossil fuel which emits carbon dioxide when used. Generators are also incompatible to supply residences with roof-top solar panels, which must be switched off. This highlighted a need to significantly improve customer experience and reliability by finding a solution that is better for the environment and also compatible with domestic forms of renewable energy, particularly as they become more common.

What is the Silent Power project?

Northern Powergrid underwent a two-year project in partnership with British energy storage SMEs, Hyperdrive Innovation and Offgrid Energy, to significantly improve the ways in which power is restored in our region. The project, called Silent Power, saw the development of a fully contained energy storage system within a number of electric Northern Powergrid vans. This enabled us to drive directly to customers’ properties, eliminating the need for specialist transport – which almost entirely alleviates the noise and air pollution when installing traditional diesel generators.

The project is currently in a trial phase with three vans that can respond rapidly.

How important was it to work with partners on the Silent Power project?

Our partnerships with the British energy storage SMEs were key to the success of this project, exemplifying how we can restore power in a way that improves customer experience and reliability, all while aligning with our decarbonisation goals.

How can Silent Power help make a difference to the community, and the climate?

Silent Power is demonstrating how clean energy is able to restore power in a far more versatile and mobile manner for our customers. We can get these vehicles into places where it would not be possible to safely put traditional diesel generators due to their exhaust and noise emissions. They also have the potential to help us significantly decarbonise our operations.

Just one small van has the ability to power up to three homes, or a small community centre for 24 hours. The project also provides support in balancing the grid, allowing for batteries to be changed when electricity is not being used at scale.

What could others in Yorkshire and Humber learn from the project?

Silent Power highlights the importance of staying up to date with innovative solutions to traditionally carbon-intensive operations and how collaborative work is critical in driving the green economic recovery.

There are two key takeaways from the project:

1.     Collaboration is critical. We must pool our experience to respond to the climate emergency as one collaborative effort.

2.     Leave no stone unturned when thinking about your own business carbon footprint. The diesel generators have been embedded into our business operations for decades – but everything should be challenged now.