Can a sharing economy approach to energy deliver a more sustainable future?

Sunshine through tree tops - green energy

As global demand for electricity grows, are there alternatives to building more power stations which make smarter use of existing infrastructure? And in an industry renowned for high levels of consumer mistrust, could an Airbnb of energy finally deliver a consumer-centric energy market?

Technology is shaping our lives like never before, making our world smarter, more efficient and more connected. In the last decade, it has fuelled an explosion of sharing economy business models — adopted by the likes of Uber, Airbnb and Zipcar — who in just a few short years have revolutionised established industries. But can a sharing economy approach help to tackle one of man-kind’s greatest challenges and deliver clean, affordable and secure energy to all?

Sharing economies are a consumer-led phenomenon which work by exploiting excess capacity or inefficiencies in existing systems for mutual benefit. Take Airbnb for example. The wasted asset is your property and the excess capacity is the space you are not using. By creating a user-friendly platform and giving homeowners the security they need Airbnb have built the biggest hotel chain in the world, surpassing the Intercontinental Group in less than four years. They have achieved this because they haven’t needed to construct a single thing.

So how could this apply to the energy industry? As global demand for electricity grows, are there alternatives to building more power stations which make smarter use of existing infrastructure? And in an industry renowned for high levels of consumer mistrust, could an Airbnb of energy finally deliver a consumer-centric energy market?

Since the world’s first power station was built in 1882 the global energy system has worked on the basis that supply must follow demand. Consumers — businesses and households — have been passive users of power, paying to use what they want when they want, whilst electricity supply has adapted to ensure the lights stay on. This has created inefficient systems built for periods of peak demand — in the UK this is typically between 4–7pm on a cold winter evening — which most of the time are massively underused.

But this is no longer the case. Today, our ability to connect and control anything from anywhere means we can manage our demand for electricity in previously unimaginable ways, and consumers are emerging as a driving force for change.

By connecting everyday equipment to a smart platform (just as you might upload your property to Airbnb), it’s now possible for consumers to take advantage of small amounts of “flexible demand” in their existing assets and processes — be it a fridge, a water pump, or an office air con unit — and sell it to organisations tasked with keeping the lights on — like National Grid.

Applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to govern when and for how long assets may respond gives consumers confidence their equipment’s performance will not be affected, and in return for sharing their “flexible demand”, they benefit from cost savings or direct payments.

This sharing economy approach relies on the power of tech and our ability to orchestrate many thousands of consumer devices at scale. Any one piece of equipment can only make small changes to the timing of its electricity consumption — e.g. delaying when a fridge motor comes on for a few minutes during a spike in electricity demand at the end of a football match — but collectively, the impact is transformational.

It means that when electricity demand is greater than supply, we don’t need to fire up fossil-fuelled power stations. Instead, we can reduce demand by asking non-time critical assets to power down for a short while.

If the wind is blowing and too much electricity is being supplied, we don’t need to let this clean, abundant power go to waste, but can ask equipment to shift its demand and make use of this power as it is available.

And we don’t need to keep building more power stations to meet occasional peaks in demand. Instead, we can distribute demand more intelligently throughout the day, reducing the size of these peaks and making better use of existing capacity.

In the UK, Open Energi’s analysis suggests there is 6 gigawatts of peak demand which can be shifted for up to an hour without impacting end users. Put into context, this is equivalent to roughly 10% of peak winter demand and larger than the expected output of the planned Hinkley Point C — the UK’s first new nuclear power station in generations.

This doesn’t make it easy. Unlike other sharing economy success stories, energy is a public good. The need for incredibly robust solutions means the barriers to entry are high. But, if we can get it right, the prize is enormous; a cleaner, cheaper, more secure energy system which gives consumers control of how, when, and from where they consume their energy.

Businesses have already recognised the power they hold and the benefits it can bring, with the likes of Sainsbury’s, Tarmac, United Utilities and Aggregate Industries adopting the tech and demonstrating what’s possible. Households look set to follow, but wherever the flexibility comes from, it’s clear that consumers and the environment will benefit from a sharing economy approach to energy.

David Hill is strategy director of Open Energi. He is an expert on electricity markets and demand-side flexibility, including demand-side response and energy storage. He joined Open Energi in 2010 after completing an MSc Energy, Trade & Finance at Cass Business School.

Why the UK needs an energy security rethink

London at night
Sebastian Blake
Sebastian Blake, Commercial Analyst, Open Energi

Blackout Britain is a headline which has become increasingly common over recent years. Many argue that decades of under investment in generation infrastructure has left the margin between demand and supply in the UK desperately short, raising the possibility of network outages at times of high power demand. Given the blame that would be landed at the Government’s feet were the lights to go out, energy security has been given top priority over the other facets of the energy trilemma; decarbonisation and affordability.

The Government’s solution to this was to devise the Capacity Market as a mechanism to encourage investment in new power plants, with yearly auctions for participants who can provide capacity over the winter peak. Crucially, auctions are held four years in advance of the capacity ‘go live’ date, to guarantee revenue and give investors the confidence they need to build new power stations.

There are, however, major flaws in the thinking behind such an approach. There is much evidence to suggest that the UK is in fact well supplied with power station capacity, that building more stations is unnecessary and that running the system more efficiently on tighter margins is a good thing. And by ensuring there is sufficient power plant capacity to meet the instance of highest demand in the year other potentially greater threats to security of supply are being ignored.

The graph below shows the frequency of the UK grid, which is the primary indicator of the system stability. The network is in balance when the frequency is hovering around the 50Hz mark, however any significant variation either side is a sign of a serious imbalance between generation and demand and could result in a potential shutdown of the network. This isn’t a distant threat: whole towns had to be shut off as an emergency measure in 2008 when grid frequency dropped to 48.8Hz.

Grid frequency graph

In this case, we can see what happed to the frequency when a large supply source – an interconnector between the UK and France – failed, leading to more power being drawn by consumers than was being supplied to the grid. To counteract the resulting frequency drop and avoid a system shut down, a series of automatic measures kicked into action, including turning up thermal power plants (coal and gas) and sending water reserves cascading through turbines of hydroelectric plants.

More recently on the 9th May 2016 there were 37 significant failures across 27 different coal and gas plants as well as the France interconnector; with each one disrupting frequency and testing the grid’s resilience. At one point in the day National Grid issued a warning that insufficient spare capacity would be available in an hour’s time. This is too short notice for a thermal plant to start up (which takes around four hours) so not something the Capacity Market would have helped with.

National’s Grid’s Head of Commercial Operation Cathy McClay has said managing the grid frequency is becoming an increasing headache for our island system. However, the technologies traditionally used to respond in these situations look increasingly unfit for the role. The best new candidate is demand side flexibility – in the form of batteries and demand side response – which offers numerous benefits.

 Energy storage and demand side response offer five core advantages over traditional solutions

  1. Speed of response: Demand side response and batteries can deliver their full power in under 1 second from receiving a request from the network. By comparison thermal plants and hydroelectric generators need around 10 seconds. As the interconnector example shows, this difference is crucial for avoiding a potential network shutdown and will be needed more and more due to continued reductions in system inertia.

 

  1. Decentralisation: Demand side response and batteries are distributed technologies meaning a required level of response can be made up from aggregating together many smaller sites. We have seen how relying on large centralised technologies (like the undersea link to France) poses increased risk to system stability as they represent significant single points of failure. Thermal power stations fail on a daily basis so individual plants cannot be relied upon for response; whereas with distributed technologies this risk is shared across many assets; if one fails the whole service is not compromised.

 

  1. No need for spinning reserve: Traditional providers are only able to achieve the 10 seconds or so when starting from an already running position, hence the generators must be operating at some partial output to provide the quick response. This impacts fuel efficiency by around 10-20%, greatly increasing costs and CO2

 

  1. Flexibility: The network can only absorb as much power as there is demand, so at times of low demand, National Grid must turn down clean and zero marginal cost power from renewable sources like wind to accommodate the thermal generators which must be kept running for frequency response. Demand side response and batteries overcome this problem.

 

  1. Low carbon: By maximising the use of demand side response and energy storage technologies, the UK will be able to achieve further growth in renewable generation; while reducing its reliance on interconnectors and its exposure to volatile gas prices.

 

The high capacity fossil fuel plants which have historically been used to respond to the demands of the grid are increasingly unfit for purpose in a modern electricity network, yet the Capacity Market fails to encourage the development or implementation of smarter, cleaner and decentralised solutions which would provide a more efficient means of addressing both our energy security and other elements of the trilemma.

Neglecting these alternative solutions via the Capacity Market will undermine exactly the thing Government is trying to advance: security of supply. National Grid should be applauded for its efforts to implement change through its Power Responsive campaign – designed to encourage demand side participation in the balancing markets – but many policy makers remain locked into the old paradigm of an archaic industry; no doubt weighed down by the stranglehold of well-established energy incumbency (better known as the Big Six).

For these parties, using distributed assets to balance the system still represents a significant departure from the orthodoxy of constructing and operating a few large centralised assets like Hinkley Point C, which will deliver 7% of all UK electricity when completed.

To achieve a real paradigm shift towards a secure, affordable and low carbon economy, we don’t even need to find new solutions. Distributed and demand side technologies are ready to deliver; we now need to change the supply-focused mind set of our policy makers and operators.

By Sebastian Blake, Commercial Analyst, Open Energi

New EEF report: DSR should “be one of the first options” for electricity security

Metal company scores win-win of cash and cost savings

Under Theresa May’s Government BEIS has been tasked with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, ensuring that the UK has secure energy supplies that are reliable, affordable and clean, and tackling climate change.

The UK’s manufacturing sector has an important role to play but a report published this week by the manufacturers’ organisation, EEF, found that its members’ confidence in the Government’s handle on security of supply is tepid at best. Only one third of its members agreed with the statement that “the Government has a long-term strategy to ensure security of supply” and just 3.6% felt energy infrastructure had improved in the last two years.

The report “Upgrading Power: Delivering a flexible electricity system” makes a series of recommendations for Government to help manufacturers play a part in boosting UK energy security and improve how our electricity system operates. Demand Side Response (DSR) is identified as one of the first options that should be looked to in achieving electricity security.

As the authors note “Continuing to be over-reliant on supply side options and leaving DSR options untapped is rather like having the heating on at home, deciding it’s too warm and then opening a window rather than turning the heating down. Both actions will achieve the intended outcome but the former wastes energy and money.”

In a recent EEF survey only 9% of respondents took part in some form of DSR activity – compared with 29% in a recent cross-sector survey conducted by Ofgem – citing varied reasons from insufficient financial incentive to those that had utilised all of the available flexibility on their sites. However, by the far the most common reason given was the complexity of the system and resulting lack of understanding within manufacturing companies.

The report found that even manufacturing companies well versed in the DSR markets find the system bewildering and unwelcoming to new entrants. One company commented that “it is genuinely stressful to be in a regulatory environment alongside the big six”, further noting that energy companies have entire departments to deal with these markets, whilst even a large manufacturing company may have only one individual covering energy.

Those manufacturers who are engaged in DSR activities adopt a common approach and hierarchy to maximise potential savings and revenue streams. Where possible, companies will seek out opportunities to reduce exposure to higher power (wholesale) prices first, followed by minimising their network costs (Triads and Distribution red band charges) and finally participate in specific DSR products.

To help unlock the estimated 9.8GW of DSR flexibility available in the UK EEF recommends first increasing the number of businesses acting on straightforward price signals through time-of-use tariffs. Beyond this it calls on the Government, National Grid and Ofgem to look at what can be done to reduce the complexity of specific DSR services and regulatory barriers to entry.

Finally, it highlights the forthcoming ADE code of conduct for aggregators as an important step which will improve manufacturers confidence in these companies. Open Energi strongly supports this move. Aggregators occupy a position of trust and have a responsibility to educate businesses and be open and transparent about the benefits that exist.

Donna Hunt, Head of Sustainability at Aggregate Industries summed this up in a recent interview with edie, saying “businesses want to see what the value-case is. They need the confidence and trust in it. It’s not new technology but it’s perhaps not at scale yet. That’s a big reason why Aggregate Industries is proud to be out there talking about how it works. We should be doing more of it because we need a more responsive energy system that works for everyone.

“We need to prove that value-case, share knowledge and open doors. We just need there to be a level playing field between the aggregators to remove the confusion so people are clear about how they can engage.”

Unlocking the full potential of DSR is going to take time but National Grid is looking to source 30-50% of balancing services from DSR by 2020, creating a potential revenue stream for businesses of around £1 billion. As the world strives to find ways of delivering energy which is clean, affordable, and secure, the more that can be done to facilitate DSR participation – from business of all sectors – the better.

EEF Report: Demand Side Response Recommendations

  • The Government should investigate how to maximise the DSR benefits for manufacturers of smart meters, half-hourly settlement and time-of use tariffs.
  • National Grid, as part of its charging review and in consultation with industrial energy consumers, should seek to reform the Triad charging system to deliver greater predictability for industrial energy consumers.
  • The Government should explore the incorporation of DSR aims and related electricity cost reduction strategies into energy efficiency schemes such as ESOS.
  • National Grid, in collaboration with energy consumers and the Government, should seek to reform the ancillary market to reduce complexity and create greater transparency.
  • Ofgem should amend the Balancing Settlement Code rules to allow participation of DSR in the balancing market.
  • The Government should reform the Capacity Market to allow easier access for DSR assets in future auctions.

Download the full EEF report “Upgrading Power: Delivering a flexible electricity system”

 

 

The 4th industrial revolution: a smart power revolution?

Sainsbury's deliver demand side response from its stores UK wide

On the 8th September, James Heappey, Conservative MP for Wells took part in a House of Commons debate on the 4th Industrial Revolution.

In his speech he talked about the “smart energy revolution” that is underway in the UK today, and highlighted the pioneering work of two of Open Energi’s customers, Sainsbury’s and Aggregate Industries. Here’s what he had to say:

Speaking twice in 25 hours is a record for me, and I am grateful for the opportunity. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Mak, who has secured a worthwhile debate and opened it brilliantly. I apologise for being late, but I was working on the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s paper on renewable heat and transport targets, which will be released this evening. I commend it to the House: it is probably one of the most insightful Select Committee reports that Members will read all year. Indeed, all of our Committee’s reports are insightful.

In summing up yesterday’s debate, the Minister used some fantastic theatrical references, which I hope will become a tradition of his summing-up speeches. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the theatre, so we look forward to that. Today, I present, to use my own theatrical reference, the second part of my play in two parts, in which I will talk about the energy opportunities provided by the collision of emerging technologies and our existing energy infrastructure.

There is some dispute over whether this is the third or fourth industrial revolution. A book by Professor Jeremy Rifkin has become a bit of a bible for me, as I have sought to develop my thinking on how energy policy might evolve. He thinks that this is the third industrial revolution, but none the less it is an excellent read that very much pulls in the same direction as those who are advocating the fourth industrial revolution.

Ministers will already have looked in great detail at the National Infrastructure Commission’s “Smart Power” report, which is a fantastic publication setting out how we can harness all these wonderful technologies as we digitise the energy system. The reality, as the report observes, is that we could save £8 billion a year for the UK economy if we digitise our energy system and harness those technologies. That figure represents not just immediate savings on our energy bills, but gains in productivity.

Nicola Shaw, the head of National Grid, told the BBC “Today” programme last week that we are seeing

“a smart energy revolution across the country with consumption adjustments reflecting when energy is cheapest”.

The idea that we have to change our consumption habits to meet a changing energy market sounds like a nightmare to most people, but the reality is that we already have many of the technologies in our homes. Most major white goods manufacturers are producing smart appliances already: they are in our shops and, probably unknowingly, we already have them in our homes. Through the internet of things, they will all start to speak to one another to make sure that they operate at the most efficient and cost-effective time. They also report faults, so people will not have to carry on for years with a fridge that uses more power than it should, because it will already have flagged up its fault to whoever manufactured it. These are exciting times and the technologies already exist. It is not, in my view, going to be a case of opting into them, because manufacturers are building them as standard and they will increasingly do so.

The Government face a challenge in preparing our homes, businesses and society for the internet of things from an energy perspective, so I will give my thoughts on our system preparedness before moving on to examples of where we are already seeing the huge economic advantages.

As Ministers know only too well, the smart meter programme is the keystone in achieving the digitisation of our energy system, and I know that they will be keen to push on with that roll-out at best speed. Everything that we seek to do in bringing technological innovation into the energy space depends on those smart meters being in place to digitise the system. Similarly, on the way in which our grid is put together, we want all our generational capacity—from the smallest to the largest—to be able to speak in real time about what it is producing, so that we can have a more dynamic generation system. We also need to sort out the regulatory framework for storage, because at the moment people have, in effect, to pay for their energy twice: first when it is generated, and secondly when it is released from storage. Surely, that cannot continue for much longer.

We also have to make sure that our distribution networks—the substations in our communities—are capable of dealing with more dynamic demand and clustered demand, particularly overnight, when people might be taking advantage of cheap energy to charge cars, run the washing machine and tumble dryer, and heat immersion tanks. None of that will happen automatically without the Government paving the way. Thereafter, however, I am sure that these technologies will find their place in the market by themselves. They will make life better, and people will buy them as a result. The Government do not need to encourage people every year or so to change their mobile phone, because people just want to have the latest technology at their disposal. I am sure that that will be the case in this area if the Government create the right regulatory framework with energy policy.

I turn to storage. The price of storage has already come down from $3,000 per kWh to about $200 today, and it will come down even more quickly still. We saw over the summer reports about the Tesla Panasonic factory in Colorado, the construction of which is being accelerated quite rapidly given the increase in demand. These are exciting times, because storage is the key to flattening the energy supply curve and unlocking the real potential of renewables.

The real technological wizardry, however, is demand-side response. That may be a combination of words that many in the Chamber have not heard before, but it needs to be at the forefront of the way in which we discuss energy. Flattening the supply curve through the availability of storage deals with only half the problem; flattening the demand curve through demand-side management is equally important.

I have been hugely impressed as I have become enthused about DSR, and as I have gone around various companies that are delivering it, by the scale of the savings that it is bringing to businesses. Marriott hotels have signed up to a DSR contract that saves them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Workers at Aggregate Industries’ bitumen plants used to just turn up in the morning and fire up the boilers to get the bitumen tanks up to heat. They would operate over the course of the day, and then they would be switched off. Aggregate Industries now employs technologies that allow it to say, “Our tolerance is that we need to keep these tanks at a certain temperature, and provided that they are at that temperature, we can release energy back to the grid.” It does so, and it gets money for nothing as a result. By employing those technologies, it can sell back energy that it does not need, which it would otherwise just have paid for and wasted. That creates a huge saving.

Similarly, refrigeration is a massive cost for supermarkets and the food industry in general. Sainsbury’s has employed demand-side response, and the store in my constituency in Street, Somerset has released 20 kW of capacity back to the grid simply from DSR. That is extraordinary.

The other area that I want to touch on was the electrification of the transport system. I had to check very carefully with the Clerk of the Energy and Climate Change Committee about when I would find myself in contempt of Parliament, but I understand that if I draw on the evidence rather than on the report itself, it is fine. This is a hugely exciting opportunity for us to employ electric cars and electric haulage systems in the UK. The problem is that I am not sure that we yet have the infrastructure in place to support them, and I am not sure that we have the right fiscal structure to support them either.

I tried to buy an electric car over the summer, and sadly I found that their range was probably not quite enough to allow me to do my duties around my rural Somerset constituency. They are getting there, however, and we just need to incentivise the acceleration of the technology, so that we get beyond the 100-mile range to a range of 200 or 300 miles. If that happens, I think that people will, all of a sudden, go for electric cars quite quickly. All the incentives that the Government have in place—the £4,500 that they contribute towards the car and the contribution they make towards a charging point at the buyer’s home—are fantastic. The Government’s emphasis on establishing a charging infrastructure at motorway service stations and on main roads is also fantastic, but we really need to grow the infrastructure much more if people are to buy the cars and make the saving that we hope they will. The argument is that electric cars will make us more productive as well, particularly when we go beyond merely electric cars to electric autonomous cars, and we find that we can move around our towns and cities much more freely.

Interestingly, in the United States, Coca-Cola has employed hydrogen-electric hybrid vehicles for its entire fleet, and it has made a 20% reduction on its fuel costs. It made that huge saving by employing those technologies and electrifying its transport fleet, which is very exciting. We should look across at that and realise that this is not just something that people do if they are green and they want to be environmentally sensitive. It is something that an individual or a business can do if they want to reduce their operating costs—technology colliding with energy generation and energy consumption to make us more efficient and more cost-effective, and to make all our operating costs that bit cheaper.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you encouraged us to keep within 10 minutes, so I will summarise, rather than go into the many more examples that I am itching to provide. The bottom line is that, while we will focus very much on our digital infrastructure with broadband and 5G mobile phones and we will worry very much about the preparedness of our airports and air routes, as well as of our roads and rail, the energy infrastructure is just as important. In my view, alongside the broadband and mobile phone networks, the three sets of infrastructure of telecoms, broadband and energy will drive the fourth—or third—industrial revolution and allow us to harness all these fantastic technologies. We should seek to do so not just because we are seeking to arrest climate change, but because it is cost-effective, makes business sense, will increase productivity and, ultimately, will be great for our economy.

Access the full debate here.

Demand flexibility is putting consumers in control

Tarmac has installed Demand Side Response at around 70 sites UK wide

A smart power revolution is underway putting your business in control of how, when and from where it consumes its energy. At last week’s Energy Live 2016 Open Energi’s David Hill explored how technology can unlock demand flexibility to deliver maximum value from your assets  – connecting industrial equipment, batteries and self-generation – and coordinating their behaviour in real-time to turn the vision of a smarter grid into reality.

David was joined by Steffan Eldred, Senior Energy Optimisation Manager at Tarmac, sharing their approach to demand flexibility.

Download a copy of the presentation.

The move to a low carbon economy coupled with rapid advances in technology and innovation are transforming electricity supply and demand. Grid agility and flexibility are essential as we move away from models of centrally dispatched generation and incorporate more intermittent renewable energy generation onto the system.

This flexibility can be provided in a variety of forms, from demand side response (DSR) and energy storage to new build gas generation. However, there is a clear merit order emerging in terms of both the carbon and consumer cost of these offerings.

DSR is the cheapest and cleanest form of flexibility. At its core, it is an intelligent approach to energy that enables aggregators to unlock flexibility in our demand for energy to build a smart, affordable and secure new energy economy.

Flexibility Merit Order shows Demand Side Response is lowest cost optionThe technology can be used to invisibly increase, decrease or shift users’ electricity consumption, enabling businesses and consumers to save on total energy costs and reduce their carbon footprints, while at the same time enabling National Grid to keep the system in balance.

It is part of a wider energy market picture that must focus on flexibility and achieving the lowest cost for consumers. If just 5 per cent of peak demand was met with flexible power, the response would be equivalent to the generation of a new nuclear power station, without the huge costs to consumers.

Tarmac is one business benefiting from this approach. The company has been a pioneer of DSR, partnering with Open Energi to install Dynamic Demand on over 200 bitumen tanks at 70 asphalt plans across the UK. What this means is the heating elements in each of those tanks, which keep the bitumen warm, can switch on or off in seconds to help National Grid balance electricity supply and demand.

Collectively Tarmac’s tanks are providing the grid with capacity that can be shifted in real-time, so they’re able to use more when there is a surplus – for example when it’s particularly windy – and less when there’s a shortfall. Its enabling Tarmac to help build a smarter, more responsive energy system which is paving the way for more renewable power and reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuelled power stations.

 

 

10 myths about Demand Side Response

Sainsbury's deliver demand side response from its stores UK wide

Demand Side Response  is a vital part of our transition to a zero carbon economy and has the potential to transform how we use and deliver energy. But there are some common misconceptions about how businesses can get involved and what it means for them. To help cut through these, Chris Kimmett, Commercial Director at Open Energi, tackles some of the most common myths about Demand Side Response (DSR).

Myth 1: It’s too disruptive

This myth is especially prevalent in the press where headlines such as “UK factories shut down to prevent winter blackouts” are not uncommon. But this is a very outdated perception and technology advances have changed the game completely. There are lots of processes that have a degree of flexibility, where technology can be used to temporarily increase or decrease consumption without impacting performance, for example heating, cooling and pumping.

Take the air conditioning in a typical office building. It will be designed to maintain the temperature between certain bands, for example 18-22 degrees centigrade. Turning the unit on or off for a short period won’t have any discernible impact on the temperature and technology can automate its response so as soon as it approaches its upper or lower limit it stops responding.

Some demand is genuinely inflexible, such as lighting. The good news is that as battery costs come down, businesses can use these to participate in different Demand Side Response schemes and switch to battery power during peak periods.

Myth 2: It’s all back-up diesel generators

It’s true that there is a lot of back up generation participating in certain DSR schemes. Short Term Operating Reserve (STOR) is a good example; 93% of the response comes from generation and 22% (743MW) of this is from diesel. That’s because there are a lot of organisations with back up diesel generators which for much of the time are under-used, so it makes sense to earn revenue from these where possible. However, there is also a significant and growing portion of real demand participating across a range of markets, coming from all kinds of different equipment, including fridges, pumps, chillers, motors, and fans. To date, we have connected over 60MW of demand flexibility from these types of assets across the UK, of which around a third is usually available at any one time.

Myth 3: There isn’t enough value to make it worthwhile

There are lots of businesses out there participating in DSR who would disagree with this statement. In a recent Energyst Media survey, 81% of businesses said they participated in DSR to generate revenue and National Grid’s PowerResponsive website features a range of case studies. These businesses are seeing significant value from participating in DSR, not just in terms of revenue, but also because it is the right thing to do and it is supporting their organisation’s sustainability credentials. Accessing all a business’ flexibility means it should be possible to return around 5-10% of its energy bill in DSR revenue. National Grid has clearly stated its desire and need to grow demand side participation significantly, and its value is expected to increase over time.

Myth 4: It’s a winter peak problem

There is a winter peak problem and margins remain slim at around 6.6%, but National Grid increasingly faces challenges in the summer and with the year round second-by-second balancing of supply and demand. As more of our power comes from wind, solar and other sources of distributed generation over which National Grid has no control, it is having to cope with periods in the summer months where supply exceeds demand, often overnight or in the middle of a sunny day. Rather than pay wind farms to turn off, it has been using a new service called Demand Turn-up to encourage businesses to shift their demand to these periods to help absorb the excess energy.

A very different challenge is that of managing the real-time balancing of electricity supply and demand, which National Grid must do 24/7, 365 days a year. Whether a gust of wind means a surge in power or a gas plant tripping means a shortage, demand flexibility is cleaner, cheaper and faster than ramping power stations up and down in response. Fast acting real time flexibility is essential to keeping the lights on in the future.

Myth 5: Participating in Demand Side Response means handing over control of my processes

Absolutely not! It is not the place of DSR providers to tell you how to run your business and you should always retain ultimate control. This should be a fundamental part of how you approach DSR. We spend a lot of time working with our customers to understand their assets and processes and agree the parameters within which they want their assets to participate. Once a control strategy is in place, each individual asset is then able to decide if it can respond, and the technology will enable it to kick us out automatically if it reaches a point where it can’t.

The beauty of DSR is that because the response is aggregated from many thousands of assets, where one fridge can’t respond we know that a pump or a bitumen tank will. Added to this there is always an override switch which means the system can be disabled on site at any time.

Myth 6:  Demand Side Response is easy

It is getting easier, but it is certainly not easy just yet. As described above, much of the effort and resource is required pre-implementation, in understanding the assets and processes and developing a strategy to ensure there is no impact on operational performance. There is a lot of great learning happening in the UK and globally, connectivity is increasing, technology is improving, and we are starting to see equipment being manufactured “DSR” ready. These changes are making it easier for businesses to participate by the day.

Myth 7:  Energy storage = batteries

Batteries are very interesting and the cost curve has been plummeting – especially for Lithium-ion batteries. But energy storage comes in many forms; there is thermal storage in a fridge, in a building’s air conditioning or in a bitumen tank for example.

Working with Aggregate Industries, we have found that a modern, well-maintained and insulated bitumen tank – which stores the liquid bitumen used to make asphalt for roads at between 150-180 degrees centigrade – can be switched off for over an hour with only a one-degree change in temperature.

Similarly, the water pumped to a reservoir represents a form stored energy. If we can find these small amounts of stored energy in everyday processes and unlock this flexibility for National Grid, then we can start to deliver a transformation in how our energy system operates without the need to build new batteries.

Myth 8: There isn’t enough demand flexibility to make a difference

A number of recent studies have looked at this, including the Association of Decentralised Energy and the National Infrastructure Commission. Our analysis suggests there is around 6GW of demand that can be shifted during peak periods, and that’s real demand only, not including back-up generators. 6GW is more than the UK’s two biggest coal fired power stations combined, and almost double the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. Unlocking this flexibility means we can build fewer peaking plants, integrate more renewable generation and mitigate the effects of intermittency. It offers major advantages in terms of cost, network reliability and sustainability which is good news for the environment and bill payers!

Myth 9: It’s unreliable

In setting the Capacity Market Auction Guidelines, National Grid prescribed the reliability for each balancing technology class available. Demand Side Response was ranked as more reliable than Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT), coal, hydro, oil or nuclear power. For example, for a 100MW nuclear generator, National Grid estimate it can rely on 81.4MW being available, while for DSR they would expect 89.7MW to be available. Large centralised power stations do not necessarily confer reliability. By their very nature they represent large single points of failure with the potential to cause massive disruption should a problem arise. The aggregated nature of DSR which relies on many thousands of smaller assets working together has proved its reliability over many years.

Myth 10: I have no flexibility!

You probably have more than you realise. If you’re thinking about demand flexibility but not sure how or if it could work for your business, we recommend you:
1) engage the right people internally who know what equipment you have and understand how it is managed
2) find someone who understands the market
3) find someone who understands your industry and what you do

By overlaying the above in a meaningful you can identify how much flexibility you have and where you can use it in a way that doesn’t disrupt your business and delivers the value you need.

 

 

London’s spare gigawatt of power

London spare gigawatt of power

Lucy Symons, Policy Manager at Open Energi, explains how flexible demand could help power a sustainable future for London.

Projected population explosions in cities across the globe present urban planners with huge challenges. Between now and 2050, the number of Londoners alone is expected to increase from 8.6 million to 11.3 million, putting enormous pressure on energy infrastructure and requiring radical new solutions.

To meet the energy needs of 11.3 million Londoners in 2050, the Mayor is planning for a slew of new power plants as part of the enormous £1.3 trillion infrastructure spend earmarked in the London Infrastructure Plan. But there are alternative approaches to our current supply-side model that could deliver better value; we need to be original and also look at the demand-side opportunity.

Indeed, by taking a smarter, no-build approach to managing energy demand, London could shave off an eighth of the power currently used to keep the city’s lights on.

New modelling by Open Energi demonstrates that London has a whole gigawatt of ‘spare’ capacity in its current demand for energy: in-built flexibility that can be cheaply unlocked without the need to lay a single brick.

The challenge of matching supply with demand

London, like all mega cities, is still mostly fossil fuelled and this needs to change, fast. However, the rapid growth of renewable energy generation presents its own challenges, with spikes in electricity production that are often out of sync with times of high energy demand in homes and businesses; on a given day in winter, London’s energy demand peaks at 8GW between 4 and 7pm.

By contrast, at the height of summer, solar power supply follows the natural pattern of insolation- peaking at noon and in sharp decline by the late afternoon. Whatever the season, intermittency will be a persistent problem for balancing the London grid.

At present the generation infrastructure serving London is built to meet maximum possible demand. But with demand exceeding 7 gigawatts only 21% of the time, this is a hugely inefficient use of resources.

As London’s population grows, predicting electricity demand will be increasingly difficult. The GLA has forecast four scenarios, with demand in 2050 deviating from the 2015 baseline by as much as 30%. And this presents a major planning challenge.

Energy production local to demand

One approach is to throw more capacity at the problem, building London’s energy infrastructure for a theoretical peak that could be as much as 60% too high by 2050. Indeed, the Greater London Authority is already planning for local generation to meet 25% of London’s needs by 2025. Estimated total capital costs for this range from £50 billion to £100 billion.

While local generation undoubtedly has an important role to play, building 119MW of co-generation units requires space, which is already at a premium in London, and continues our reliance on carbon-emitting gas in a city struggling with air pollution.

And the challenge of building out clean supply-side alternatives is clear when looking at GLA projections for wind power for 2050, which depend on technological developments that will allow for small, decentralised turbines to be running right across the capital.

Flexibility local to demand

It’s a well reported fact that electricity margins are tighter than they have been for years and, as populations continue to grow, the need to balance energy supply and demand in order to mitigate the risk of power blackouts will be more important than ever. Grid agility and flexibility has traditionally been provided by building new supply assets, but a smarter approach can be found on the demand-side.

Demand response technology is, at its core, an intelligent approach to energy that enables aggregators to harness flexibility in our demand for energy to build a smart, affordable and secure new energy economy. True DSR technology invisibly increases, decreases or shifts users’ electricity consumption, enabling businesses and consumers to save on total energy costs and reduce their carbon footprints while at the same time enabling National Grid to keep capacity margins in check.

Using over 5 years of data from working with businesses and National Grid to deliver demand response from all kinds of equipment –  including heating and ventilation systems, fridges and water pumps – right across the UK, Open Energi has modelled London’s industrial and commercial energy use to reveal an estimated 1040 MW of flexible demand that could be invisibly shifted to provide capacity when it is most needed.

This gigawatt of flexibility is electricity currently being put to use in powering London’s homes and workplaces between 4 and 7pm – with over half used in retail, commerce and light industry.

Harnessing this flexible power – a sizable slice of London’s 8GW winter peak demand – is not a technology problem. Right now, Open Energi’s Dynamic Demand technology is connected to 3000+ machines, invisibly and automatically reducing, increasing or delaying power demand, depending on available supply. Given that the bulk of London’s flexibility comes from non-domestic sites (large commercial buildings, retail and industry), using Dynamic Demand to unlock this 654 MW of flexibility could be the cleanest and most cost effective way to provide the power for London to operate, businesses to grow and its inhabitants to lead healthy lives.

As a direct alternative to building new power plants, Demand side response is an efficient way to optimise the existing generation infrastructure- shifting 1GW out of the peak would save the need to build a new mega power plant, equivalent to the size of Barking Power station.

From where we stand, powering London is a data-driven problem. The answer lies in decrypting patterns of flexible demand.

Analysis conducted by Remi Boulineau, remi.boulineau@openenergi.com

 

The IOT technology meeting the UK’s grid balancing needs faster than a power station

Tech image

Chris Kimmett, Commercial Manager, Open Energi

It’s a well reported fact that electricity margins are tighter than they have been for a number of years and, as we move towards winter, talk will increasingly turn to the need to balance energy supply and demand in order to mitigate the risk of power black outs in the UK.

Almost all of the UK’s grid balancing has traditionally been done by coal and gas. But the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive has limited running hours at a number of plants and in the past twelve months both Longannet and Eggborough power stations, which currently provide around 5% of the UK’s capacity, have announced they will be closing their doors in 2016.

Add to this the solar and wind explosion – by the end of 2015 experts predict the UK will have 10GW of solar power, a benchmark most thought wouldn’t be reached until 2020, and by 2020 National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios indicate that small-scale, distributed generation will represent a third of total capacity in the UK. This considered, we see that tomorrow’s electricity landscape will look very different to that of today.

The transformation of the energy system away from centralised generation to small-scale, distributed power means that speed of response to changes in energy supply and demand will be more important than ever.

Indeed, while most people are focusing on the tight capacity margin between supply and demand, the real blackout threat could come from generators being unable to respond within the required window to balance instantaneous shifts on the grid.

For more than 12 months, energy data analysts at EnAppSys have been monitoring grid frequency and analysing large deviations which, if not managed, can lead to instability. EnAppSys’ director Paul Verrill says that while we need to ensure the system has sufficient supply to meet demand, the real risk of blackouts could come from this second issue that often falls under the radar: a lack of capacity able to deliver additional power within the required timeframe.

Grid agility and flexibility will be essential as we move away from models of centrally dispatched generation, and National Grid, via its Power Responsive campaign, has already asserted that demand side response (DSR) will play an increasingly vital role in building a resilient, sustainable and affordable electricity system for the future.

This is especially pertinent given the results of new research by Open Energi, National Grid and Cardiff University, which suggests that smart demand side response (DSR) technology can meet the UK’s crucial grid balancing requirements faster than a conventional power station.

The latest research paper, which forms part of the ongoing collaborative research programme between Open Energi, National Grid and Cardiff University, titled Power System Frequency Response from the Control of Bitumen Tanks, looks at the feasibility of DSR to provide a significant share of frequency balancing services.

To test the scale of the opportunity for industrial heating loads to provide frequency response to the power system, bitumen tanks (which contain the glue that binds our roads together) equipped with Dynamic Demand technology were tested in combination with National Grid’s model of the GB transmission system.

Dynamic Demand deployed at scale is able to contribute to the grid frequency control in a manner similar to, and, crucially, faster than that provided by traditional peaking power generation – not to mention more cleanly and cheaply.

Field tests showed that full response could be provided in less than two seconds, as compared to 5 – 10 seconds for a thermal generator. Large scale deployment of Dynamic Demand will reduce the reliance on frequency-sensitive generators and ensure that the grid stays balanced in a cost-effective, sustainable and secure manner.

The research simulations help to shape National Grid’s understanding of DSR as a replacement for frequency-sensitive generation and will be used when they are planning their requirements for grid network operation in the future – with huge impacts on the future of our energy mix.

When launching Power Responsive, National Grid CEO Steve Holliday said: “The move to a low carbon economy coupled with rapid advances in technology and innovation are transforming our electricity supply. But supply is only half the story. The challenge now is to exploit new opportunities to radically evolve our energy system by changing the way we use electricity.”

And this is why the research findings are so significant.

With more renewables and decreased thermal generation, ‘inertia’ on the Grid will decrease, making frequency more unstable. To counteract this effect we need faster response, so by rolling out Dynamic Demand today we are future proofing the Grid.

With their new Power Responsive campaign, National Grid has recognised the need for a new source of flexibility and have stated they are committed to scaling the smart DSR industry.

Demand side response is intelligent energy usage. By knowing when to increase, decrease or shift their electricity consumption, businesses and consumers will save on total energy costs and can reduce their carbon footprints. It is the smart way to create new and efficient patterns of demand.