National Physical Laboratory

Diversity of supply Energy efficiency and diversity of supply

Ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions, together with the need to maintain security of supply, are setting enormous challenges to every sector of energy generation, supply, use and regulation.

The solutions involve diversification, improved efficiency and an emphasis on sustainability. Metrology will ensure the reliability, performance and benefits of the innovation in the energy infrastructures, systems, and technologies. This will give confidence in the investment decisions necessary to bring about a step-change in security of supply and consumption.

Explore NPL's progress towards meeting the challenge below:

Measurements to enable Smart Grids

NPL Digitizer

The energy grid needs to evolve so that it can deal with more distributed and intermittent sources of energy generation such as wind turbines and solar panels.

A 'Smart Grid' will help reliably use large amounts of renewable energy and measurement tools are vital for its operation, as energy flows need to be measured and controlled.


  • Developing new instrumentation to measure the impact of renewables on the stability and quality of the electricity network
  • Performing on-site measurements of new renewables such as wind turbines and photovoltaic clusters to understand their impact on the electricity distribution system under all operation and weather conditions
  • Optimal value for money instrumentation networks to determine levels of power generation and consumption in smart electricity grids using the minimum number of sensors and data
  • Developing a methodology for quantification of carbon savings
  • Collaborating with network operators to integrate the methodology into industrial systems and test its effectiveness in managing smart grids
  • Making comparisons of business-as-usual and improved states of the system by network operators 
  • Incorporating the methodology into a PAS (Publicly Available Specification) to enable the rapid uptake of and investment in smart grids

2020 themes:

Measurement at the frontiersOn site power quality measurements need to deal with the problems caused by complex and harsh environments for real-world applications.

Smart and interconnected measurementUsing multiple synchronised measurement systems at distributed locations throughout networks for wide area power quality measurements. 

More information:

Measuring active catalyst area in fuel cells

Fuel Cell

NPL develops powerful new diagnostic tool for state of health monitoring of PEM fuel cell stacks

Improving durability is a key objective for the fuel cell industry in the drive for widespread commercialisation and the NPL technique looks set to become an invaluable tool in stack lifetime studies. Simon Foster, Technology Specialist at Intelligent Energy, the UK's leading PEM fuel cell manufacturer, commented: "It's like measuring the wear on pistons without taking the engine apart. It helps us understand degradation processes and failure modes. Ultimately it may even lead to an enhanced real-time diagnostic tool … the technique could yield a 5% to 10% improvement in performance." Intelligent Energy and Johnson Matthey have already incorporated the NPL method into their suite of fuel cell stack characterisation techniques and it is anticipated that many fuel cell and component manufacturers around the world will follow suit.

Up until now measurement of active catalyst area has only been possible at the beginning and end of life of a fuel cell stack. The conventional method requires control of the potential of each cell but this is not practical in a stack, which operates under current control. In the NPL technique, a constant current is applied to the stack and the active area in each cell is then determined simultaneously from analysis of the resultant potential transients. This innovative technique was developed at single cell level at NPL and subsequently adapted to fuel cell stacks by Johnson Matthey in a joint research project funded by the Technology Strategy Board. A joint paper by NPL and Johnson Matthey on this work has recently been published in the Journal of Power Sources.

2020 themes:

Measurement at the frontiersAn in situ diagnostic technique that makes possible for the first time monitoring of the active area of platinum catalyst in each individual cell in a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell stack. This provides a powerful new tool for the study of critical degradation mechanisms such as catalyst poisoning, carbon support corrosion and catalyst sintering to develop the performance and lifetime of fuel cells.

Measurement at the frontiersMeasurement in real world application with a complex and harsh environment (the interior of a fuel cell).


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