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Energy Day on BBC 5 Live
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Phil Critchlow, director of TBI Media, which is producing 5 live’s Energy Day, explains how 5 live’s studio will be powered.

5 live’s Energy Day relies on a ‘micro grid’ or ‘power generation node’ fed by renewable energy sources to produce the power required to run the 5 live studio. From the word go it was clear that there would be a degree of compromise in creating this ‘model’ of the national grid. With the best will in the world, the climate in one part of Salford, on one day in September 2013 would hardly be representative of the UK average as a whole across a given year. Wind, as one example, is particularly disrupted by the buildings on the site. But, allowing for this, and with a clear understanding that our objective was to be illustrative rather than ‘laboratory proof’ we began.

Likely energy required 

The 5live studio is in an inflatable dome ‘tent’ on the MediaCityUK piazza providing cover for our kinetic bikes, and a marque which, as well as providing cover from the weather for the production team will also hold up to 100 people seated as a studio audience.

Three principal areas of energy requirement emerged. By combining these it became clear that we will need to generate an average of approximately 7 kilowatts of power to create the approximately 84 kilowatt hours needed across the day.

Equipment                                                                          Watts     kWh

1 – BBC Broadcast Equipment                                        750      9.00
2 – Dome – Fans for the inflatable structure                 2400    28.80
3 – Dome – Lights                                                              3800    45.60

NB : The kilowatt hour (symbol kW·h, kW h or kWh) is a unit of energy equal to 1000 watt hours or 3.6 mega joules. For constant power, energy in watt hours is the product of power in watts and time in hours. The kilowatt hour is most commonly known as a billing unit for energy delivered to consumers.

Likely energy generated 

When it came to powering the studio we have tried, as far as is practical – to replicate the kind of proportions of energy generated in the UK in 2012.

2012 UK Electricity generated breakdown

Coal          39%
Gas           28%
Nuclear    19%
TOTAL     86%

Renewables         11.3%
Other Sources        2.7%
TOTAL                      14%

So 86% of the energy generated in the UK last year come from power stations using coal, gas and nuclear reactors, with around 14% coming from renewable and other sources.

We have replaced the power supplied to the national grid by coal, gas and nuclear with a similar proportion (86.3%) created, for our grid, by a biodiesel generator using treated Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) from the BBC canteen in Salford.

The rest will be supplied by small scale solar, wind and kinetic (or human) power.

Energy Day – Energy production estimates

Biodiesel      86.3%
TOTAL          86.3%

Solar               8.4%
Wind               0.6%
Kinetic            4.7%
TOTAL         13.7%

All the sources will simultaneously charge a very large battery system or hybrid power generator, and the studio will be powered by the energy stored in that system. As with the national grid this will allow a degree of fluctuation over the 12 hour period.

All we then have to do is create a system to measure the various energy sources across the day, and make sure the energy we will be drawing from the battery is ultimately going to be less than we generate in Kilowatt Hours (kWh) across the day.

Sensors have been built to measure the energy generated and software written to allow the four sources (Solar/Wind/Kinetic/Bio) to be represented graphically, both on the big screen in the MediaCityUK Piazza and on the BBC Radio 5 live website.

With the ‘Y’ axis measuring up to 7 Kilowatts and the ‘X’ axis showing 12 hours, we also decided to show the total power being generated ‘now’ and a countdown in Kilowatt Hours of the energy used across the day, starting at 7am from 84 kW h and reaching zero kW h – hopefully before 7pm.

So that’s the methodology. Due to the nature of the subject estimates have clearly been made along the way, but at the heart of the idea is a concept which we hope will help illustrate many of the points in discussion during the day.

5 live’s Energy Day is Thursday 5 September. Listen live throughout the day.