Talking energy modernisation with the UK’s Faraday Grid
The UK’s electricity grid has barely changed technologically since it was built over a century ago. How can the grid cope and adapt to the challenges of the 21st presents? Jack Unwin finds out from Matthew Williams, founder of faraday Grid, how its technology will lead to automation and decentralisation of the UK grid.
What was the inspiration behind forming Faraday Grid?
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND FORMING FARADAY GRID?
MATTHEW WILLIAMS (MW):
We started to see that there are more renewables forecast to come into the grid, which will fundamentally change the way the electricity system operates.
We are moving away from a centralised bespoke model to a distributed global renewable energy system. The existing technologies that were being forecast to be added to the grid were not going to be the right approach, because adding more and more technology to the grid was going to make it more complex, fragile and expensive.
The inspiration for me was going through the process of finding what the energy future will look like, and then design a complete, unique energy system architecture, a new way for the electricity system to work using existing poles and wires to enable us to have a system that is flexible and robust.
Could you explain the difference between your engineering model, design by rationalised constraint (DRC), and other models?
COULD YOU EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR ENGINEERING MODEL, DESIGN BY RATIONALISED CONSTRAINT (DRC), AND OTHER MODELS?
It's our design methodology. A lot of engineering today focuses on making things a little bit cheaper and a little bit more efficient.
DRC takes a different approach and says rather than looking at what we've got and trying to make it cheaper let's look at the actual problem we're trying to solve and see if it is still the right solution.
It’s like an academic process as it uses the scientific method, which is a very robust way to discover the truth in essence, you have a hypothesis and are able to determine whether that is true or not. DRC is a design process that allows us to come up with the optimal design outcome for a problem.
Image: Faraday Grid
Would you be able to give us a quick outline of the three platforms you have, Faraday grid, Faraday Exchanger and Emergent?
WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO GIVE US A QUICK OUTLINE OF THE THREE PLATFORM TECHNOLOGIES THAT YOU HAVE, FARADAY GRID, FARADAY EXCHANGER AND EMERGENT?
Our primary focus is Faraday Grid. What we're doing is designing the energy system of the future and Faraday Grid is what I would call systems architecture.
We're able to transform the existing electricity grid - that’s passive and rigid - and turn it into an intelligent platform. In order to do that we use autonomous decentralised control. That means there is no master controller for the entire electricity grid, no supercomputer trying to monitor and control massive large-scale, complex systems. The grid manages itself.
Faraday Grid provides that stability from within the grid itself and does it at a much lower cost, making the system more stable and flexible as well as reducing the cost of energy.
The Faraday Exchanger (FE) is our new device. It's hardware, firmware and software, all in a single device. It's been designed as a drop-in replacement into the electricity grid, located where a transformer would traditionally go.
As you put multiple FEs within a single electricity grid you get this Faraday Grid effect, where the exchanges collaborate and coordinate with each other using the decentralised control and they’re able to balance a network in real time dynamically.
Emergent is our transactive platform that is embedded within the H/F/Software of the Faraday Grid so we are able to properly account for energy flowing through the system. Emergent is able to capture both the cost of energy to generate, but also the cost at that point in time to get it from point A to point B to accurately. That way you get a finer level of detail about what the true cost of energy is.
What was the key challenge in creating the Faraday Grid?
WHAT WAS THE KEY CHALLENGE IN CREATING THE FARADAY GRID?
When we're looking at the design and using DRC we didn't want to make the system any more fragile than it already was.
One of the key design inputs was that we didn’t want to expose the grid. So the FE is designed so that if there is an issue at end of its life, it goes back to doing what a normal transformer would do and the control stops working. But you know that so you can pull out the old broken control and plug in the new one. It then starts working automatically again - that was one of the key design decisions that we had.
You have schemes in the UK and US. Why did you choose the US?
YOU HAVE A SCHEME IN THE US, WHY YOU CHOSE THE US?
The US is obviously a very big market with a lot of electricity grids, like the rest of the world those electricity grids are ageing, they're starting to have more and more issues as the system changes. We wanted to have a presence in that market to work with and partner with utilities and cities to help and facilitate the energy transition.
We have established an innovation centre in Washington DC, similar to one we have in Edinburgh, where we are working on research and design engineering, business development, the full spectrum of business activities.
We're a ubiquitous technology, so we didn't want to focus on just one market when we have the technology that is able to enable our vision to bring prosperity globally.
Where has the system been used in the UK?
WHERE HAS THIS BEEN UTILISED IN THE UK?
We have had a huge number of discussions with utilities, private companies, universities at all sorts of levels both in the UK and globally. One project that has been announced at this point is one with UK Power Networks, which owns and operates the grid in southeast England.
What are your thoughts on the state of the UK grid? Is there enough being invested and is it being modernised enough?
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE STATE OF THE UK GRID? IS THERE ENOUGH BEING INVESTED AND IS IT BEING MODERNISED ENOUGH?
I think that the UK is very similar to most of the western world. It's important that we invest money in the right areas. It's not necessarily the total amount of money, but making sure we are getting the right outcomes. For me it’s about outcomes rather than what you put in.
I wouldn't like to comment on how the money is being spent or if it's being put to best use, but I think it's important that we determine what we are trying to achieve and make sure we have the right mix of technology in order to enable us to get that.