2008 was an eventful year in more ways than one. Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States of America, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers bank triggered a global financial crisis and the stock market crashed, Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the China Olympics, Groupon was founded, and Jay-z and Beyonce got married.
Meanwhile in Dumfries and Galloway....the brains behind Natural Power had devised the ‘ControlCentre - a central resource that would manage all of its clients renewable energy assets remotely. As it happens, its been pretty successful.
Since opening, ControlCentre has employed 36 staff, authorised 161,540 work orders, and booked on more than 20,000 personnel working on sites around the UK, Ireland, France and US. This coincides with Trevor Mitchell celebrating ten years of employment as he began as the first Operational Controller in June 2008.
For the renewable energy sector as a whole, the past ten years has seen a massive step change - becoming one of the most innovative industries that is continually evolving to deliver greater value to wind farm owners and to provide a future-proof solution for global energy demands.
Early last year, Natural Power decided to take ‘ControlCentre to the next level. The business embarked on a market leading programme that included the design and build of a new control services facility incorporating a decade of experience in its design.
The new £540,000 state-of-the-art facility that has been created is the largest, independently operated 24/7 control room in the UK, managing more than 175 renewable energy assets which are located throughout the UK, Ireland, France and the US.
The ControlCentre now employs 22 staff and manages 5 GW of renewable energy capacity comprising onshore and offshore wind, biomass, solar and hydro. This investment ensures the ControlCentre complies with all the new EU cybersecurity rules to protect clients assets and the grid, keeping them safe against potential cyber-attacks, as well as exploring new ways of increasing revenue for clients.
To ensure we were positioned at the forefront of asset management, real-time data provision and security requirements, this investment is designed to deliver the next decade of services to a market where clients demand more flexibility; where interaction between generators, system and network operators becomes more sophisticated; and where intelligent management of assets brings higher returns.
How does it work?
Site data arrives at ControlCentre and is analysed by our state of the art software, utilising machine learning techniques, to ensure the turbines are operating at peak performance. Whilst automation plays an important role in modern asset management and the software required to deliver cutting-edge services is continually improved, another more human factor, plays a vital role. An ergonomic environment, improved sound, lighting and room layout mean that the operational controllers are comfortable and safe to support our clients at any time of the day or night, whether that is site access, grid curtailment, emergency response, turbine control or any number of other services.
ControlCentre is also capable of supporting the National Grid in balancing the network and ensuring just the right amount of power is being delivered into the network for homeowners and industry to use whilst enabling asset owners to sell when costs are optimal and to curtail when demand is low. Right now the system demand is in the region of 40GW, of this, wind is accounting for approximately 8GW, and Natural Power is controlling a portion circa 1.5GW which is equivalent to 3.75% of the entire UK demand from all fuel sources. For capacity, Natural Power controls an estimated 20% of the entire of UK wind in transmission.
From a practical point of view, ControlCentre also helps to raise work orders and manage site access and egress remotely which manages safety risks on sites and therefore reduces the cost impacts that could come from a health and safety related incident. The team can monitor data and react to alarms, bad weather or issues on site quickly which again saves money and reduces the reliance of onsite personnel at the asset. For example, if a lightning strike causes damage to a turbine, the asset can be powered down remotely to minimise further damage and secure the site for the emergency services. In the long-term, this can deliver massive savings on repair bills as well as ensuring a safe working environment which allows for quicker repowering once the issue has been resolved.
In terms of asset optimisation, the monitoring and analysis of turbine data can flag potential problems before they become critical and avoid the need, where possible, of very costly, major component exchanges such as gearboxes. By taking a preventative approach to maintenance strategy, thousands of pounds can be saved annually and this far out-weighs the relatively low cost of data analysis, regular inspections and a well-planned maintenance and servicing strategy.
The new facility has been designed to ensure Natural Power remains at the forefront over the next decade; flexibility has been built in to allow for integration of new services as well as the continued upgrading to software that will improve service delivery - vitally important in an ever-changing industry.
Happy 10th anniversary ControlCentre!