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,


Future proofing London: Regeneration in the age of IOT

Storage London Skyline of Gherkin

July 2015: David Hill, Business Development Director, Open Energi

Planning for the redevelopment of London’s Old Oak Common is now in full swing with the appointment of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) board. What lessons can the team behind the project learn to ensure the scheme is futureproofed and can meet the needs of Londoners for generations to come?

In February 2015, London’s population reached a new high of 8.6 million people, exceeding the previous record set back in 1939. The city’s population is set to continue to expand, with current estimates predicting it will reach 11 million by 2050.

There is an urgent need for new housing in the UK capital to help manage this growth. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has outlined ambitious investment plans to improve the capital’s infrastructure which could require £1.3tn of spending from now until 2050, most of which needs to go on housing and transport.  As part of one of the largest regeneration schemes in London for decades, plans are now fully afoot to transform brownfield land in Old Oak Common and Park Royal into a sustainable New Town close to the heart of the city.

At present, the Mayor of London’s office suggests that development in north-west London will create up to 24,000 homes and more than 55,000 jobs. According to the GLA, the scheme will be an exemplar in accessible, high quality and ‘smart’ regeneration which, over the next 20 years, will strengthen London’s role as a global city.

Within this wider regeneration project in the currently underutilised region of west London, plans are also being drawn up by the London Sustainable Development Commission (LSDC) to create a world-leading clean tech hub. LSDC, which advises the Mayor on the city’s low carbon economy, hopes the hub will attract forward-thinking start-ups and large green companies from across Europe, especially once major planned train lines open, including Crossrail and HS2.

Accordingly, the GLA’s Draft Old Oak and Park Royal Opportunity Area Planning Framework (OAPF), which was produced with contributions from Transport for London (TfL) and the London Boroughs of Brent, Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham sets out an ambitious vision to ensure that the Old Oak and Park Royal area is an exemplar of low carbon development.

The GLA has already committed to achieving the highest standards of energy efficiency and low carbon technology and, to this end, has pledged to produce an Energy Strategy and subsequent Energy Masterplan for the area.

The Mayor has set a target for London to self-generate 25% of all electricity consumption by 2025 to improve system resilience and reduce the cost of transmission. Local energy in London includes solar power and heating networks supplied by plants which are close to where energy is used and which generate heat and power at the same time.

The problem with these approaches is that they require space, which is already at a premium in London. Added to this, not only is gas for combined heat and power (CHP) tied in to volatile global energy prices, but it is also carbon emitting – a particularly problematic scenario for a city which is already struggling with an air pollution crisis. The city is in urgent need of a high-tech energy solution and, as this swathe of London begins its transformation, it is essential that the GLA fully embraces the huge opportunity for system change to ensure the scheme is futureproofed and can meet the needs of Londoners for generations to come.

Cutting edge software and an Internet of Things approach to energy-consuming assets are enabling advanced forms of demand response technology to be rolled out across a range of equipment – including heaters, pumps, chillers, refrigerators and air conditioning units – turning them into smart, automated and autonomous devices that can react instantly to changes in electricity supply and demand across the network to free up capacity, while also delivering new revenues for consumers in return for this improved grid resilience.

The UK has historically tried to deal with capacity issues by increasing supply rather than addressing the root of the problem but, to illustrate the potential scale of success, we should look to the US, where the use of demand response technology has already shaved off ten per cent of the country’s peak energy demand.

In the UK, National Grid urgently needs more flexibility from the demand side to support intermittent renewable use and meet rising energy demand, and has already announced targets to increase demand side balancing capacity from 700MW to 3GW by 2020. In London alone, there is around 250MW (equivalent to five per cent of peak demand) of flexibility in our energy system that could be easily utilised using demand response.  This would effectively remove one whole peaking power station from the grid. Of the £1.3 trillion OPDC infrastructure plan, £150 billion of spending is slated for energy. If we apply the five per cent flexibility logic above, this equates to instant savings of £7.5 billion.

Demand flexibility resides in a range of city areas. For example, eighteen per cent of London‘s energy consumption comes from commercial buildings, of which at least twenty per cent is flexible.  Two per cent of power consumption comes from the water sector, of which eighty per cent is flexible.  In aggregate, this flexibility can provide London with a ‘Virtual Power Plant’, meeting the needs of the growing population without the need for any new infrastructure.

The business case for demand response already exists without any need for intervention or support – and is already being applied effectively by organisations from National Grid to energy intensive corporates, such as Sainsbury’s. From a sustainability perspective, too, demand response makes sense in enabling businesses to move beyond their own footprint and supply chains to help deliver system-wide change.

As development progresses, the Old Oak Common and Park Royal project is a prime candidate for smart grids and demand side response at both building (new and retrofitting existing) and aggregate levels to optimise capacity investment, reduce energy demand, balance local energy supply and demand, including peak energy across the site, and reduce the need for network reinforcement.

HyperCat City’s work in promoting IOT standards, and then involving these in planning and design phases already provide OPDC with some of the crucial tools needed to deliver real cost reduction benefits.

As London expands there is a huge opportunity to capitalise on power demand flexibility to drive major cost and carbon efficiency benefits for the city. To achieve that we must first create a comprehensive map of where flexibility currently resides in the system which will show the level of generation actually required to power new build projects, such as Old Oak Common and Park Royal.  Those new build projects present the opportunity to map demand flexibility at a highly granular level, i.e. by building, which will creates a true image of where capacity lies, as well as building in resilience from the ground up.