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Carbon Tracer

How does the App work?

To be able to display the energy mix and carbon intensity for a user via the app, the Carbon Tracer has to carry out the following broad tasks:

  • Localise the user to the correct place on the electricity distribution network, specifically to an Electricity Supply Area (ESA). A user may select multiple locations – the app is not limited to where you currently are. To do this it uses a set of supply area geographic polygon definitions along with some clever location software;
  • Obtain the details from our master data of the main supply substation (BSP) which feeds that ESA;
  • Find the totals of each of the generation types and their capacities (maximum output) attached on the network under that BSP. We refresh this generation data regularly from WPDs databases;
  • Scale the generation to obtain an instantaneous value for each generation type. This depends on the time, date and on current weather conditions, the latter which we obtain from the real-time Dark Sky weather feed;
  • Find the demand / load at the BSP at the time of the request;
  • Work out the difference between the instantaneous load and local generation level. Any gap must be filled by energy sourced from the National Grid - as reported by the real-time BMRS reporting mechanism from which we take a feed;
  • Combine the details of the National Grid infeed and local generation to get a breakdown of the energy mix (components of the local electricity make-up);
  • Compute the instantaneous value of the carbon intensity based on the mix determined above and the allocated energy types and their generated carbon information (from government approved and published tables);
  • A forecast and history facility are supported with details for each BSP stored on the main Carbon Tracer server.

The information displayed by the app is based around a large electricity distribution supply substation called a Bulk Supply Point, or BSP. The app has to work out two things, each of which is constantly changing: The current total demand (or load) for all customers on the customer’s substation, and the mix (and carbon intensity) of the different forms of generation which try to meet that load. The electricity is actually supplied from two main places: locally attached generation and where that is insufficient to meet demand, by taking electricity from the National Grid. Some locations in the country are well provided with local generation plants of various types while others are not.

Once the customer’s location has been traced to the supply point on our network, the amount of local generation of each type can then be determined from our data. Each attached generation source has a declared maximum capacity but this is seldom achieved because of factors such as the season, time of day and weather all of which act to change what can actually be generated given the prevailing conditions. Individual generation sites may also be unavailable at intervals due to specific operating cycles, planned maintenance or faults. The app therefore takes capacity information and then in a process that we call scaling, applies the necessary environmental and time based corrections to determine the actual generation levels.

In the same way that the level of generated electricity is constantly changing, the load at the substation also changes through the day as the households and other premises which it serves all do different things. Additionally, the seasons, time of day and weather are all changing. For example, more lighting and heating is needed on winter evenings than in the summer and more generally, less electricity is used though the night when very few people and appliances are active.

Solar photovoltaic output can be modelled very accurately given appropriate input information. Similarly wind farms only operate efficiently when there is air flow available to move the turbine blades. The generation output level is then dependent on the amount of wind, up to a point where there is too much and the blades have to be stopped to protect them from damage. In such conditions you may therefore see minimal wind generation even though there is a howling gale outside.

Solar and wind are by far the most common forms of generation, but there are several others and there is considerable variation in which forms are present at a given location. Solar and wind are also the easiest to model since many different factors come into play with some of the other forms. For example biomass incinerators will all have individual operating timetables and these may also change from what has been planned.