Unlocking the potential of UPS battery power

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Could tapping into UPS battery storage signal the future for demand response in the UK? Leo Craig, general manager of Riello UPS, considers the possibilities and benefits of adopting battery-centred demand-side response…

The UK has more than 4GW of stored power in UPS units and this valuable, additional resource could and should be exploited to help avert a capacity crisis. With electricity demand set to double by 2050, this form of demand response will be crucial in helping to balance the grid. As a renewable energy source, UPS battery power has obvious environmental benefits and can help businesses to reduce their carbon footprint. It can also open up additional revenue streams for businesses via trading on the capacity market.

It is likely to be a significant number of years before this type of demand response mechanism is widely deployed, however. The technology available holds huge potential when it comes to securing our energy future but adopting battery-centred demand response represents a massive leap of faith for businesses in the mission critical sector. We can’t expect a sea-change to happen overnight but information and best practice sharing can help to gradually increase buy-in.

There is a knowledge gap that needs to be plugged when it comes to demand-side response and UPS battery solutions. This need for additional information exists across the commercial sector as a whole – it is not unique to the mission critical industry. With mission critical sites, however, being able to mitigate concerns around UPS resilience is paramount. As specialist providers to the critical power sector, we are engaging with clients and prospects to help educate around the benefits of UPS battery demand response, talk through the technology involved and address any perceived risks.

Understanding the journey

There is still much distance to be covered when it comes to take up of demand response solutions in general. In a highly risk averse sector, many mission critical businesses have, understandably, been reluctant to use their existing back-up generators as a demand response mechanism, for instance. The harnessing of power from back-up generators is viewed as one of the more straightforward ways of providing demand response and yet it is not being widely implemented. So, taking things a step further by asking the mission control sector to consider investing in new UPS technology, to support demand response is bound to meet with resistance. Using UPS battery storage for demand response purposes has a key advantage over the back-up generator option, of course, in terms of green credentials. The emissions produced by generators defeat one of the objects of demand-side response – carbon footprint reduction.

Businesses can only consider UPS energy storage as a demand response option if their UPS is powered by lithium-ion batteries in the first place and here, again, there is room for more information regarding the benefits of switching battery types.

It is clear that we will need to see some major step changes. Firstly, the mission critical industry needs to consider demand-side response as part of its corporate social responsibility, and secondly, to explore the technologies available to achieve this before finally moving towards adopting a clean demand-side response solution. This is where the UPS with lithium-ion batteries comes into play.

Li-Ion batteries as part of a UPS solution offer numerous advantages over their SLA (sealed lead acid) counterparts. For starters, Li-Ion batteries have a much higher power density than SLA batteries which offers around a 50% saving in space and weight. This means that twice as much battery autonomy can be located within the same amount of space as a traditional SLA battery space. Li-Ion batteries also have much faster charging times than SLA batteries.

Where a SLA battery takes six to eight hours to reach 80% charge, for instance, a Li-Ion battery takes 30 minutes. Also, Li-Ion can be discharged and recharged up to 10,000 times where as SLAs can only be charged/recharged 500 times. The installation of Li-Ion batteries in UPS can also reduce air conditioning costs. SLA batteries need to be kept in a 20°C atmosphere, whereas Li-Ion batteries can operate in temperatures of up to 40°C – the same as the UPS itself.  It is these unique benefits of Li-Ion that make the UPS system a realistic prospect for demand-side response applications.

Switching to Li-Ion batteries does have cost implications but this cost barrier is easy to overcome when you take into account the multiple benefits of Li-Ion batteries. The initial outlay is offset by the open demand response revenue streams and savings on offer. For example, Li-Ion comes with monitoring features as standard and so there is no requirement to install separate costly battery monitoring systems.

Long-term goals 

Utilising the untapped potential of UPS battery power in demand response across the UK is a long-term goal. It will require a radical shift in the mind set of mission critical businesses if they are to be comfortable in using their UPS as an energy accumulator for use in demand response. Explaining the benefits, both in terms of financial reward and corporate responsibility achievement, is essential to winning mission critical sites over. Alleviating fears around risks to operations, when using a UPS beyond its primary back-up function, plays an important role here too.

Combined efforts from UPS manufacturers, aggregators and consultants to build awareness of the business drivers behind demand-side resource in a straightforward manner will help to boost buy-in. Demonstrating how the theory works in practice is an effective way of communicating benefits to business. Mission critical operators will be keen to see peer-led examples of UPS batteries being successfully used for demand-side response in a risk-free manner.

As increasing numbers of businesses come on board, we need to tell their stories. Industry seminars, workshops and conferences that explore demand-side response and provide an opportunity for best-practice sharing will help to create impetus for change too. For a major sea-change to take place, we also need to see increased incentivisation from the policy-makers. For some time now we have heard positive noises from government around energy storage being a key part of the UK’s industrial strategy. Recommendations from the National Infrastructure Commission to support demand-side response must be realised, namely that: ‘The UK should make full use of demand flexibility by improving regulation, informing the public of benefits it can provide and piloting business models.’

Demand-side response is an integral part of the modern, flexible energy system evolving in the UK today. It offers a multitude of financial benefits to business by reducing energy bills, and providing revenue streams. From a long-term point of view, demand-side response will help to reduce carbon emissions, supporting responsible business practice and protecting the environment. It will also enhance the security of our electricity supply – reducing the potential for disruptive power outages and price hikes that we all want to avoid. All that said, much more work needs to be done when it comes to reassuring mission critical businesses that the use of emergency back-up systems in a demand response capacity can be achieved in a risk-free manner.

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