Virtual power stationLast updated on 11/05/2016
You probably haven’t heard of what is effectively Northern Ireland’s fourth biggest power station and you’ve certainly never seen it.
And yet it’s been going for four years and and it exists all around you.
With the capacity to deliver 74 MW iPower plays a key role in the electricity system.
While rarely called on to generate, its 24/7 readiness to burst into life at extremely short notice helps guarantee the lights stay on.
So what is it? The station consists of a network of small independently owned standby generators located in sites across Northern Ireland. Linked by the internet to a control centre in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, the machines are set up to be switched on at the instruction of the operator overseeing the electricity transmission system. This ability to respond instantly to help meet demand on the network sharply distinguishes ipower from even the biggest wind farm whose output depends on the weather.
The formal name for such an arrangement is Aggregated Generator Unit and iPower’s is one of the first in Europe.
Among those who have contracted with ipower to make their back up generators available to the grid are two hospitals: Antrim and Altnagelvin as well as a whole range of private companies.
These public and private organisations get payments from ipower which in turn derives its income from the capacity payments offered to all large scale dispatchable generators to reward them for their willingness to offer their output as and when required by the transmission system operator.
This company which has its roots in an initiative by Northern Ireland Electricity is an ingenious example of how to cope with surges in demand without having to build expensive power plants.