The electricity grid is not as reliable as it once was, with the transition to renewable power posing new risks to both reliability and the cost of power. The grid is operating with greater uncertainty, variability and a tighter supply-demand balance. This is driven by increased renewable generation, an aging thermal generation fleet, and unexpected
retirement of capacity which is increasing the risk of forced outages (AEMO).
Now more than ever, there is a stronger need for hospitals to ensure they have working redundancy measures in place and the confidence they can continue to support patients in the event of a grid trip or failure. Hospitals across Australia are raising their standard of emergency preparation by using an innovative new approach to testing their
backup power infrastructure – participating in a Virtual Power Plant (VPP).
A VPP is a collection of distributed energy assets (backup generators, batteries, flexible loads) that work together to provide additional dispatchable capacity to the grid. They are called on when large power stations suddenly fail, when demand is extremely high relative to supply, or when climatic events threaten grid stability.
Participating in a VPP provides a compelling new way for hospitals to enhance their emergency preparedness by testing backup power systems under conditions which simulate true emergency situations. This achieves a new benchmark for best practice testing standards.
Hospitals typically participate by switching to backup generation when required, which can be done safely and without interrupting hospital services. By temporarily reducing demand during critical grid events, hospitals can earn a significant new revenue stream. This can be reinvested into backup power infrastructure upgrades, further enhancing system reliability. Where hospitals require an infrastructure upgrade to achieve uninterrupted load transfer, in many cases this new revenue stream will quickly pay off the investment, which can be externally financed.
Routine testing practices have shortfalls
Common testing practices often fail to fully simulate the response required during a grid power failure.
While load bank testing can exercise the generator under load, it doesn’t test the full load transfer sequence using automatic transfer switches and ancillary circuit breakers, and loads are not representative of actual hospital operations.
Another practice, black start testing, tests all system components, however it’s not often done under true emergency conditions such as during a hot summer afternoon when an outage is most likely to occur. This approach doesn’t account for the effects of elevated ambient temperatures, increased building loads, and generator de-rating on system
By participating in our VPP, hospitals can thoroughly test their backup power systems whilst having the safety net of grid power to switch back to should any potential issues be identified.
Ken Herman, Engineering Services Manager at Swan Hill District Health, said, “During testing we discovered that one of our generator circuit breakers operated intermittently and wouldn’t always close. This meant that when both of our backup generators were required to supply hospital demand, the hospital’s supply redundancy could have been compromised if the breaker didn’t close. Once the fault was identified, the ‘sticky’ breaker was replaced.”
Elevating your backup power testing practices
Only VPP participation provides the truest test of emergency preparedness by calling upon your backup generation infrastructure to support actual hospital loads, testing the full load transfer sequence, and often in conditions when grid emergencies are most likely to occur, all the while still having grid power available to maintain supply redundancy.
All system components will be tested thoroughly – from your generator fuel, air, battery and cooling systems to programmable logic controllers, automated transfer switches, ancillary circuit breakers, monitoring and alarm systems. More frequent full-load testing will optimise generator performance and enhance life expectancy.
VPP participation provides advanced notification of possible grid events, enabling hospitals to proactively switch to backup power in anticipation of a grid outage. This allows switching in a controlled environment with mains power still available, reducing the chance of an unplanned disruption.
In the event of a real emergency, you’ll have much greater confidence that your backup power systems will reliably power your facility as expected.
Responding to a critical grid event can also meet routine test requirements where they overlap – meaning a site can effectively be paid to test its backup power systems.
Mark Hooper, Executive Project Manager at Echuca Regional Health, said “As we’re running our generators on load [in VPP participation], we can defer our weekly test for another week, because we've proven that we've met the required standard to test them on load.”
Protect your equipment from power quality disturbances
Our VPP automatically responds to deviations in grid electrical frequency, to avoid any cascading failures on the power grid. Many hospitals already have systems in place to ensure frequency deviations don’t negatively impact sensitive electronics and critical equipment.
“We have a lot of electronic equipment that's sensitive to things like voltage spikes and frequency deviations. We set parameters on our incoming equipment, so that if the grid’s frequency deviates, we switch to our generator. VPP participation became a hand in glove approach for us, it meant we were able to get paid for doing the same thing we already were,” Hooper said.
Join a VPP in time for next summer
As the next critical summer period fast approaches, grid reliability issues and the threat posed to healthcare operational resilience will continue. Participating in a VPP will enable your organisation to achieve a new standard of emergency preparation, whilst accessing a new revenue stream.
A small to medium size hospital with 50 to 100 beds can earn on average $20,000 to $50,000 per annum, whereas larger hospitals with 200 to 500 beds can earn revenue in the order of $150,000 to $250,000 per year.
At Enel X, we operate the largest VPP in Australia (Bloomberg New Energy Finance), and have been aggregating hospitals’ energy load to support the grid since 2008. We’ve had a number of learnings that help our participating hospitals enhance their operational resilience year-round.
We understand each hospital has unique operations and infrastructure needs. To upgrade your testing practices and emergency preparedness before the start of the upcoming summer – the time where outages are most likely, and where you can earn the most revenue – it’s important to get started immediately to allow enough time to integrate your site into our VPP.
To learn more about this opportunity, get in touch with our team.
The hospital is using a new approach to conduct backup generator testing with VPP participation, where it tests its redundancy systems under true emergency conditions, and earns new revenue for supporting the grid.