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How decentralized energy storage systems can throw you a lifeline

The electrical grids collapse, the lights go out, chaos ensues. This is the doomsday scenario that unfolds in “Blackout – Tomorrow Will Be Too Late,” a bestselling techno-thriller by the Austrian author, Marc Elsberg. Published in 2012, the novel gives a chilling account of how a Europe-wide power outage brings the entire continent to a grinding halt. Fortunately, it is only a product of Elsberg’s imagination, but could such a nightmare ever become reality?

The country’s national electricity network broke down, plunging all major cities into darkness and leaving tens of millions without electric supply for several hours. While no serious damage was caused on either occasion, the incidents serve as timely reminders that a potential blackout poses a real threat.

Blackouts: a real threat?

Fast forward to January 8, 2021. A disturbance in the synchronized European power grid resulted in a separation of the continent’s grid regions. Unlike in Elsberg’s novel, the cause was not a cyberattack, but a sudden drop in frequency, apparently due to connection flaws in the southeast of Europe. The grid was temporarily split into a southeastern and a northwestern part. Sensitive machinery was reported to have stopped working in some regions. Operators, however, managed to keep the grid stable and ensure that it was connected again within an hour. Coincidentally, a similar incident occurred in Pakistan the following day. The country’s national electricity network broke down, plunging all major cities into darkness and leaving tens of millions without electric supply for several hours. While no serious damage was caused on either occasion, the incidents serve as timely reminders that a potential blackout poses a real threat.

It would be alarmist to claim that we are helpless to do anything, but there appears to be no comprehensive solution to the problem. According to Herbert Saurugg, a renowned specialist on blackout management, some uncertainties can never be resolved. The main reason is that security mechanisms that operate in large-scale systems cannot be tested in real life. In addition, since they are so unstable and complex, the behavior of such systems is unpredictable. In short, Saurugg sums up, there exists no collapse-free electric power network. This undoubtedly leaves us in a precarious position.

We can start that preparation by installing decentralized energy storage systems. As their name suggests, these systems enable customers to produce electricity locally, without having to rely on the grid.

Had the malfunction that occurred on January 8 not been resolved so promptly, it could have set off a chain reaction with potentially dire consequences for the whole of Europe. The same could have happened in Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous country. Given that we are wholly dependent on a continuous supply of electricity, a massive blackout could inflict untold damage on vital services such as health care, telecommunication systems or transportation. Indeed, it would cripple life as we know it – all of a sudden, Elsberg’s apocalyptic vision leaps into the realms of reality.

What makes us especially vulnerable is that it takes time to realize how critical a particular situation is. We initially perceive a blackout as just an ordinary power failure and take it for granted that the lights will come back on soon. Only later do we find out that what we are dealing with is potentially more widespread and more serious. Of course, that is not to say that outages restricted to a smaller area can be ignored. Indeed, local outages that last an hour or two occur much more frequently than actual blackouts, and their consequences can be equally profound. The good news is that, regardless of the cause of the power failure, we can be prepared for every eventuality.

The solution: decentralized energy storage systems

We can start that preparation by installing decentralized energy storage systems. As their name suggests, these systems enable customers to produce electricity locally, without having to rely on the grid. This technology has various advantages. First, the losses caused by the grid’s line resistance can be eliminated. As a result, the power grid is relieved, which in turn helps to prevent network failures. Having decentralized energy storage systems also increases the overall demand-flexibility, which makes the switch to renewable energy sources more affordable to big power suppliers and thus contributes to environmental protection.

More and more people are using photovoltaics, but those – given that they need the sun in order to produce electricity – do not automatically make us less susceptible to outages. It therefore makes sense to have an additional storage system in place. When more electricity is generated than is consumed, such a system stores that excess amount which can be released when less electricity is generated than is required. A power storage system can thus fill the supply gaps that would otherwise be filled by relying on the grid. A number of technologies can be used to guarantee a transition to an alternative power source in case the grid fails. Let’s take a look at some of them.

The spread of battery storage and the increasing decentralization of energy supply results in a win-win-win situation - for customers, who save costs, for the power grid, which is less stressed, and for the environment, which is protected by the spread of renewable energies.

Energy storage systems: the way to prepare for a power outage

Should an outage occur, systems that operate on a standby power supply (SPS) can switch from the grid to battery storage via a separate switch box. A few seconds later, supply is guaranteed to all consumers within the in-house power network, but having that switchover time – the amount of time it takes to switch from utility to battery supply – as well as an additional switch box is a disadvantage.

An EPS system, or emergency power supply system, is commonly defined as one that can provide electrical energy to vitally important machines or emergency lighting via a separate connection. Its two main advantages are that the switchover time is shorter and no separate switch box is needed. However, there is the disadvantage of having to manually reconnect or hook up consumers.

An uninterruptible power supply system uses batteries that charge when the power is on. In the event of an outage, it draws on the stored energy to power the equipment. It ensures optimal voltage and frequency quality without interruptions because the switching time is only a few milliseconds. These complex systems are used in critical environments such as hospitals or data centers, where an uninterruptible power supply is mandatory and no changes in voltage, current or frequency are allowed to occur. However, there are now home and commercial storage systems that also provide this functionality for private users and small businesses. With the BLOKK Light NEA and KJUUBE, we have storage devices in our product portfolio that provide backup power or, in the case of the KJUUBE, can even provide a full UPS function. Thus, you protect yourself or your business against possible power failures and are not left in the dark in case of an emergency. This is a way to decentralize your power supply and make yourself as self-sufficient as possible from large power suppliers.

The spread of battery storage and the increasing decentralization of energy supply results in a win-win-win situation – for customers, who save costs, for the power grid, which is less stressed, and for the environment, which is protected by the spread of renewable energies. The likelihood of power outages can be significantly reduced by decentralizing the power supply. Should they nevertheless occur, the first thing to do is to remain calm, because with the appropriate storage and emergency power systems, we can prepare ourselves more effectively today than ever before.

prepare for a power outage

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