Hogmanay may never be quite the same again in Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula, a small community on the far western reaches of the Highlands.
In recent years, it has become almost a local tradition for the power network to trip over the Christmas and New Year winter holiday.
But all that has changed with the upgrading of the local hydro-power generation system and design and installation of a demand management system by Livingston-based Energy Assets.
Knoydart is situated between Loch Nevis and Loch Hourn and relies exclusively on locally-generated power because it is not connected to the National Grid. Indeed, the community of 120 residents and local businesses is also cut off from the UK mainland road network, making access possible only by boat or by foot. It is this very remoteness and the landscape’s rugged beauty that brings tourists flocking from far and wide.
Day-to-day life in Inverie – along with the tourist trade – relies primarily on hydro-power (with a back-up diesel generator) on a 6km grid stretching along the bay. This serves homes, the primary school, post office, shops, the Knoydart tea-room, guesthouses, self-catering accommodation, hostels and the local pub – where the pier is located for boat access to and from the peninsula.
In order to prevent outages during the peak winter period and to prepare the electrical system for future growth, the Knoydart Foundation, which owns the power generation, started a programme in 2014 both to increase power capacity through dam improvement work and to improve grid performance through demand-side management.
Kyle Smith, Knoydart Renewables Operations Manager, explained: “It was clear that the demand for power within the community was beginning to reach the limitations of the power grid. Therefore the board of community directors decided to take pre-emptive action to increase generation capacity and intelligently manage loads before it started impacting on the quality of life for residents.
“The community faced repeated instances in periods of high demand – particularly during the holiday season around Christmas and New Year – when the network would trip.”
Knoydart received funding for a hydro dam improvement project, which has increased the hydro output capacity from 180kW to more than 220kW. Then a programme was launched to influence behaviour locally, with a smart lightbulb installed in a community office to provide a visual indicator (from green to red) of the power status, and a website created showing real-time power usage.
Smith added: “When it came to demand management, we looked at internet-based systems and smart plugs that could switch off appliances, but what we liked about the Energy Assets Z-Lynk system was that it communicated over powerlines, and as such would guarantee the signal reliability we needed.”
Alan Jones, Director of Technology and Product Development, Energy Assets, said that there are lessons to be learned for the whole country in the success of the project at Knoydart.
“We are all aware that the gap between power generation and demand is narrowing, so we need technological solutions, such as the Z-Lynk control system, to switch loads when needed to avoid major power outages,” he said.
“To this extent, the situation in Knoydart is no different to the national picture – and nor is the solution…it’s just a matter of scale. Indeed, what this project proves is just how valuable load switching can be in balancing capacity, not just for remote communities but for the country as a whole.”