Carbon Tracer

Carbon Tracer - News Blog

Carbon Tracer News – October 24, 2018

By Paul Charleton, Project Manager, Carbon Tracer and Carbon Portal

Carbon Tracer has now been live for almost nine months and we once again have shorter days and reduced solar generation displayed in the app. We’re working on Release 3 and the API to deliver Carbon Tracer data to third party programmers is almost ready to be declared live.

A new version of the file which gives the generation summary totals for each of the main substation sites is now driving the app. This brings it completely up to date regarding connected generation capacities.

It has been interesting to see the changes in the generation totals as new locally connected generation sites are added to WPD’s network. In February, when Carbon Tracer went live, we had some 3,637MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity across all bulk supply points and just 46MW of battery generation connected to the network. Now there is 3,735MW for PV capacity and 69MW for battery storage.

Capacity is the declared maximum capability of a particular generation type at a specific location. For various reasons generators seldom operate at maximum capacity (for example, solar parks generate no direct solar power at night regardless of their capacity).

Battery storage is a difficult one for Carbon Tracer to handle as the type of energy released depends on what was stored originally. Batteries at solar parks or wind farms will discharge renewable energy when in use since they have been charged from solar or wind power in the first place, but batteries in other locations may have stored a mix of energy types depending on how they are being operated.

Battery storage is an exciting development for the network and particularly low carbon generation as it allows electrical energy to be stored when generation is higher than demand and then released later when demand has increased.

In another ongoing update, we have also improved the notifications mechanism introduced in app release 2. You may have noticed that these are now more frequent but you can control this in your settings.


Carbon Tracer News – September 18th, 2018

By Paul Charleton, Project Manager, Carbon Tracer and Carbon Portal

Please note that the site may be unavailable for a couple of minutes on Monday 24th of September 2018 at 10PM, for routine maintenance.

After six months of running Release 1 of the system, Release 2 of the Carbon Tracer App and Website went live in mid-July as planned. We hope that the expanded colour bands for the carbon intensity displays have improved customers’ ability to visualise the daily carbon intensity profiles, particularly on the forecast. This will be more important in coming months as the level of renewables drops off with the shorter days and reduced solar output. Our notifications also mean that it should be easier for customers to work with the app to know when to do those high energy tasks which can be moved without too much inconvenience.

Feedback from an app user has revealed that it has been used not just to find a green slot for an activity but, turning this around, to instead avoid red times when the energy mix is poor. The app and the notifications permit both ways to be used.

Release 3 is still being prepared for a go-live in the autumn. We believe that we have some rather interesting new features to show as well as some data updates in the background. One of our main concerns has been to implement some adjustments to improve the forecasts of carbon intensity, which are currently over pessimistic, leading to forecast displays being very red, hard to interpret and of reduced interest. These forecasts can look odd when compared to the history views as real-time catches up and the “actuals” are revealed. The intention is to use a new data source for a new short term forecasting facility within the app.


Carbon Tracer News – July 4, 2018

By Paul Charleton, Project Manager, Carbon Tracer and Carbon Portal

Have you changed the way you use electricity as a result of the information the Carbon Tracer app provides? If so we want to hear from you!

Do you live in an area which doesn’t have much local renewable generation? We are also interested in your views.

Our Carbon Portal API service is now in testing and following feedback from potential users we have also added to the set of calls we will be supporting.

Our App release two will also be made in the next few days, so watch out for an update notification in the app stores. It will have more shades of colour to enhance the visibility of better times for carbon intensity.

We have recently presented the Carbon Tracer and Carbon Portal at two conferences in London, which has given us a chance to liaise with others in the industry and exchange ideas and information.

An interesting app we’ve seen is the Electricity Map which shows the instantaneous carbon intensity in a number of regions across the world where this information is available. Users of the WPD Carbon Tracer app may be interested in checking it out as it has some very informative features and a nice user interface. You can find it at: https://www.electricitymap.org

Please let us have your comments on any of the above via our innovation mailbox at: wpdinnovation@westernpower.co.uk.


Carbon Tracer News – June 5, 2018

By Paul Charleton, Project Manager, Carbon Tracer and Carbon Portal

Our development team is working on our planned first wave of enhancements to the Carbon Tracer and doing the necessary design work for the implementation of our data access Application Programming Interface (API).

Our enhancements draw on feedback provided by over 200 trial users of the Carbon Tracer app and website. These comments were analysed by the Carbon Trust and we have chosen which changes to make accordingly. We will deliver the changes in two updates to the user app, the first of which will be released in mid-July, with the second following in September.

The first update will allow the mobile app to issue notifications when the carbon intensity measure is expected to be good. Users will be able to control their notifications and we are being careful to design these so that there are limits to the number of times that notifications are issued.

We are also adding more colour shades to the red, amber, green colourisation used to indicate the low, medium and high levels of carbon intensity on the Now, Forecast and History screens. This will give users more direct visual indication of changes in their local carbon intensity.

June is a month where there are usually good levels of local (and national) renewable generation and the displays for most locations show this quite clearly. But winter brings a reduction in solar generation levels meaning we are likely to see more red across the board. Introducing more colour shades in the red band will also help some of our customers in urban areas, where the displays are regularly a flat red colour, see when the better times are expected to occur.

We are also planning to align the Carbon Tracer banding levels with the latest values being used by National Grid. At the moment we define the ‘low’ (green) values as being Carbon Intensity 0-199, ‘medium’ (amber) 200 – 299 and ‘high’ (red) as 300 upwards.

With the government setting ever more ambitious targets for clean energy generation, the latest banding levels are now 0-179, 180-279 and 280 upwards. This inevitably means that there will be fewer green times visible, although our enhanced colour shades should improve customers’ ability to spot ‘better’ times.

Finally, a word about our new data access API. Our API allows anyone who wants to code-up their own applications to call a set of routines (programming instructions), which are currently being prepared by Enigma Interactive, in order to be able to ‘see’ the data that drives the Carbon Tracer directly. If this is of interest, we will be publishing the details of these API service routines later next month.


Carbon Tracer News – May 10, 2018

By Paul Charleton, Project Manager, Carbon Tracer and Carbon Portal

With that strange golden orb visible again in the sky, now seems like a good time to talk about the sun!

In just over two months we’ve moved from seeing the effects of the Beast from the East to blazing sunshine in the Carbon Tracer output. We are now looking at some very nice solar profiles in the renewable generation reported on the app’s Today screen.

Users may find it interesting to use the app to just have a look around the country and compare the generation mix in different locations. On sunny days at this time of year, a good number of the WPD bulk supply point substations in Cornwall, for example, show significant levels of solar output. These can be spotted once the location has been selected in the Today screen (as a broad bell shaped curve) and Forecast (as a green band centred on the time of local noon). On really sunny days, the sun symbol is also displayed on the Forecast and History displays to signify high solar power generation.

Peak solar output occurs at local noon – the time of day when the sun is due south of a location and at its highest point in the sky. But, as railway buffs and quiz addicts will know, local noon is not the same for everyone.*

In the UK we have only one time zone (GMT/UT corrected forwards one hour to BST in the summer) but it is only at Greenwich and locations due north and south from there where solar noon occurs exactly at 12pm (although even that is not quite true - see below).

At locations east of Greenwich, local noon will be slightly earlier while at locations west of Greenwich it will be later. In Cornwall, in the far west of the country, the correction based on longitude alone means local noon occurs around 20 minutes later than at Greenwich. This effect is important for finding levels of solar power through the day.

But there’s more. The Carbon Tracer also has to apply a further time correction due to the orbit of the earth around the sun. This correction is called the equation of time and it can be as high as 16 minutes in November.

Anyone who has ever set up a sundial accurately may have come across this particular issue. Right now in May, the equation of time is quite low at around just four minutes. Also in May we are on British Summer Time, so GMT civil noon is actually one hour behind 12pm BST.

This all adds up to mean that the peak solar output in May should occur somewhere in the time range 1:00pm to 1:25pm depending exactly on where you are in the country. This can be seen by the position of the solar bell-curve in some of the Today screens of the app (depending of course on where you are).

*It was, of course, the Great Western Railway who overcame the problem of timetabling trains to towns with different times by introducing standardised time in November 1840. It wasn’t until August 1880 that legislation was passed to apply ‘railway time’ across the whole country.


Carbon Tracer News – April 16,   2018

By Paul Charleton, Project Manager, Carbon Tracer and Carbon Portal

The big news here is that we have now started a follow-on project to the Carbon Tracer called Carbon Portal.

Carbon Portal will make our data available to interested third parties for their own use. It’s early days but we’ll keep you updated as the project progresses.

In the meantime, we’re implementing some changes highlighted by user feedback on Carbon Tracer and plan to release some important ones soon.

We have already made a few small bug fixes and enhancements in the background, for which users have not needed to do an app update themselves. The changes made so far have included:

  • Applying a bug fix for “islanded” supply areas. These occurred when the distribution areas around each Bulk Supply Substation were not simple, separate shapes on a map and small parts of one supply area were located inside another. This meant they did not work correctly when a user tried to specify a location in an “islanded” area.
  • Changing the map to grey out the area of the country which is not under the Western Power Distribution remit.
  • Updating the site to use the latest versions of software as these become available.

New enhancements being considered include active notifications from the app of greener times, an improved view of the carbon intensity through the use of more colour shades, usability adjustments and an improved view of the levels of solar and wind generation.

In other news, National Grid has also just published it’s Summer Outlook, highlighting some of the issues that they are seeing around increasing levels of local generation (in particular solar PV) and the Outlook details the possible need for summer 2018 to see consequent reductions in some forms of non-renewable national level generation, notably nuclear and gas.   

Peak transmission demand at 33.8GW nationally is expected to be lower than in previous years through the high summer interval (it was 37.5GW in 2015, 36.3GW in 2016 and 34.4GW in 2017).  Transmission from generators further afield in the country is needed to fill any local shortfall, so the trend in transmission is clearly downwards as the level of local renewables continues to increase.   


Carbon Tracer News – March 22, 2018. Spring is here!

By Paul Charleton, Project Manager, Carbon Tracer

Carbon Tracer has been live for around six weeks and now we have reached the spring equinox it is possible to see a lot more solar-generated electricity appearing in the mix, especially at locations with large solar parks. As the days grow longer this should be even more apparent.

One of the objectives of the Carbon Tracer development project is to see how users interact with the app. We’re doing this in two ways: through a tool called Google Analytics and through feedback interviews and on-line audience research conducted by the Carbon Trust.

Google Analytics has told us that around 100 downloads have been outside the UK. To avoid inconveniencing people who download it by mistake, we have made the App Store information even more explicit about the geographical area the app covers. Around 1,120 users have deployed the app or are using the website and some 150 are using the app on a weekly basis.

After the Now screen (which is where users are directed initially for any location selected) it appears that the Today screen is the most popular feature. This screen gives a view of the current day, with the demand (the draw on power at that location) broken down by the hour to show the different contributory generation sources in different colours. The Forecast and then the History displays are the next most popular screens.

An early point that has emerged from the Carbon Trust research concerns the Forecast screen, and whether this can be improved to more easily assist users in identifying when better energy mix times are expected to occur in coming days. The feedback is that a seven-day forecast is too long, as customers don’t want to delay their activities that long to wait for a time with a greener mix. Additionally, the forecast mix can also look pessimistic due to the way that this forward projection part of the system works. This is especially true when there are low levels of local green generation, which is the case at some BSPs. One option is to use more colour shades so that even within a red band (poorer mix), it is still possible to quickly identify better intervals rather than clicking around to find them.

It may also have become apparent to customers in some locations that the presence of low levels of local generation at their main supply substation (Bulk Supply Point) means that the app does not indicate a very advantageous mix for much of the time. While we agree that this may be discouraging for some of our users, it is a natural consequence of the way local generation is deployed on the distribution network. The situation in each BSP supply area results from the number, size and type of local generators, and in some built-up urban locations there may be few of these in operation.

But it is worth noting that finding any slot where the mix is better for carrying out energy-intense activity is still better carbon footprint behaviour. By clicking the day display bars to reveal the carbon intensity it is already possible, even on an all-red forecast screen, to find optimum activity times.


Carbon Tracer News – Mar 5th 2018

By Paul Charleton, Project Manager, Carbon Tracer

Over the last few days the country faced the combined effects of the Beast from the East and Storm Emma, with some impact on the Carbon Tracer App.

Users may have noticed a difference in the reported mix of electricity. This has occurred for several reasons:

  • Local solar PV output is reduced where there is a large amount of cloud cover
  • Wind output may be curtained where stormy weather means the wind speed is too high (exceeding 25m per second, about 56mph)
  • National Grid’s gas deficit declaration on March 1 meant that nationwide there was more coal and less gas in use at large power stations than usual. This increases the carbon intensity figures reported by the Carbon Tracer App as coal produces by far the largest amount of CO2 when it is burnt.

The snow that blew in from the east has had little impact on WPD’s network but you may be interested to know about the WPD Power Cut App (available for free from the usual app stores). This app enables you to report a power cut, check for cuts in your area and provides useful information and advice on how to prepare for power cuts and what to do during a loss of supply.

Although it is technically possible to include power cuts in the Carbon Tracer App, in practice it significantly complicates it so is not currently included.


Carbon Tracer News – Feb 22nd 2018

By Paul Charleton, Project Manager, Carbon Tracer

The App and Website have been live for just over 2 weeks now and we have reached around 620 users which is very encouraging. The App and Website have been publicised using press releases and social media updates issued by both Western Power Distribution and the Carbon Trust. The website has also been linked from the WPD Innovation Webpages under our main website. We are hoping to carry out some feedback interviews with interested users shortly, and we welcome feedback and ratings on the App stores.

As I write, the weather looks set to get colder as a very large high pressure system, which extends right out across Europe, establishes itself over the country. This is expected to bring in an easterly airflow and possibly even some snow by 25th of February. This high pressure system has already meant that the wind has dropped significantly in many areas and this is being reflected in our current and forecast views with wind output from generators close to zero. It takes a certain level of air flow to start to move turbine blades, and there is very little power output below a wind speed of 5 metres per second. You may also be interested to know that there is an upper limit in the usable wind speed of about 25 metres per second, above which the turbines cannot be operated in case the high winds cause damage to them. The most optimal wind speeds for power generation for wind turbines is approximately 12.5 to 25 metres per second (this depends on various factors but this is a good guide).

We are also seeing more pick-up in the solar output for locations where there are solar photovoltaic generators. If you notice an amber or green band in the forecast near noon or a nice bell shaped area of green “renewables” on the TODAY plots in the app, this will usually be because solar is high through the middle of the day. Solar output in winter is low, especially in cloudy weather, due to the much shorter daylight hours and low height of the sun in the sky. This situation improves every day through to the middle of June, although on any given day the weather can affect the output quite considerably.