The National Grid is using the Salesforce1 platform as a foundation for a service that can help balance energy demand from the electricity grid at peak times during winter periods.
Back in 2013, electricity regulator Ofgen forecast that the gap between electricity production and demand would narrow to potentially disruptive levels during the winters of 2014 and 2015, due to closure of power stations and environmental factors leading to less electricity being generated.
In an interview with V3, Peter Bingham, senior manager at National Grid, said that as a result of these warnings the company needed to rapidly find a way to prevent the risk of blackouts from occurring over these periods.
"During the latter part of 2013, we developed in conjunction with Ofgen and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) a set of solutions that would deal with this issue," he explained.
"There was no moving the winter unfortunately, so that meant we had to rapidly develop and deploy the system."
With help from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the National Grid developed a system called Demand-Side Balancing Reserve (DSBR), which is designed to help balance power consumption to stay within capacity limits.
The aim of the system was to encourage large industrial consumers of electricity, such as factories, to carry out energy-hungry processes outside of peak demand hours or use their own on-site electricity generators for the period.
"It is essentially where large consumers reduce their consumption over high peak demand periods in the middle of winter," said Bingham.
With a tight deadline, TCS and the National Grid opted to build the DSBR on the Saleforce1 platform, which was touted by TCS as being the best available platform for the agile development of customer-facing systems.
The DSBR uses Salesforce1 and some of its customer relationship management components at its core, with Salesforce Community Cloud as its front-end for engaging and enabling power-hungry electricity consumers to sign up as participants to the system.
The project represents the first time cloud technology has been used with part of Britain's critical infrastructure.
In the event of power generation and demand margins becoming tight enough to require the use of the DSBR, the system simply alerts its users via SMS text message or a mobile app to request them to redistribute their high power consumption processes to operate outside the peak period.
"We used a really simple approach in that, rather than put in complex control systems to effectively send these instructions to consumers, we just used SMS and a smartphone app for relaying those instructions - rather than building a completely new infrastructure," Bingham said.
Bingham explained that the DSBR was launched in June 2014 and by October had more than 450 sites signed up to use it. This meant the National Grid gained 340 megawatts of power for potential redistribution if needed.
The DSBR was tested in 2014 and in place for winter 2015, but due to the realtively mild weather it wasn't actually used.
Instead, the DSBR is currently in place as a back-up system should electricity demand look like exceeding demand, though Bingham said such a situation is highly unlikely.
"We never actually used [the DSBR] in anger; we tested it, and it was an insurance policy just in case we found that there was not enough power in the market to meet demand," Bingham said.
"We couldn't be complacent; we've always got to assume the worst - plan for the worst hope for the best."
The DSBR will continue to operate for the remainder of the year after which regulations require the National Grid to reassess the system for use in future winters.
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