Brunel University and Imperial College London are part of the GridCC organization which is investigating how distributed computing can be used to create a real-time computing grid to coordinate inexpensive, reliable, cheap and sustainable energy supplies.
Currently the National Grid uses a small number of large data centres to monitor energy use but researchers believe the energy network will become increasingly complex in the future, so the technology that controls it will have to change to keep pace.
As the U.K. attempts to meet its targets for lowering carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2050, as part of the Kyoto Protocol, an increasing number of smaller renewable power sources -- such as wind farms and those that use wave energy -- will be added into the current system creating a much more complex energy grid.
"As the U.K. moves to renewable sources of energy to reduce carbon emissions, a larger number of small generators will be connected to the power system, which will require more active and dynamic operation," said Professor Malcolm Irving of Brunel University's school of engineering and design.
Although the project has not been commissioned by a government agency or a power companies, the researchers say they are in touch with organizations such as the National Grid and could potentially have a product ready for demonstration in two years time.
"It is fair to say that it wasn't the generators or the government which said, "We have got a problem -- how do we fix it?" They probably have thought about it, but they haven't thought about grid computing. We are keen to make sure that the potential end users are involved very early on -- we don't want to just create another computer science project," said Dr Peter Hobson, from the school of engineering and design at Brunel.
Renewable energy sources such as wind-farms could potentially be more difficult to manage because of their distributed location and variable output.
The researchers are hoping to develop the grid system using predominantly open source software and are keen that the project will not become the property of one organization or state.
GridCC stands for 'grid-enabled remote instrumentation with distributed control and computation'. The project is being funded by the European commission to the tune of €4m and led by Italian academic institution INFN and other organizations including IBM Israel.
Renewable energy presently accounts for about 3 percent of electricity production. The government has a target of increasing that to 10 percent by 2010 and 20 per cent by 2020.