Daring to imagine an energy future that’s unlike our past

Future Energy System

Two years ago, when we walked into a pub in Old Street to chat with Forum for the Future about creating a virtual power station, we had no idea we’d end up convening a project to challenge the fundamentals of how our energy system works – called the Living Grid.

Our early conversations were all about reducing our reliance on fossil fuelled generators, and proving the potential of demand-side management to revolutionise our energy grid.  But it turns out, when you mix inspiring conversations with businesses, universities, government bodies, local authorities, community groups, start-up technology providers, industry associations and everyone in between with a standing-room-only presentation from Michael Pawlyn, you end up with an initiative that questions every aspect of how our energy system is designed.

Why limit the conversation to the role of sophisticated, demand-side technologies. If our goal is an energy system powered by renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, we must look at the capabilities, interactions and design of every aspect of the system and question whether it has to be this way, or whether there is a better, alternative approach – and we must unleash our imaginations to do it.  The Living Grid has become a community of people and organisations who are deliberately challenging the beliefs we hold about our energy future, to open up solutions to us that are simply not possible using the same thinking that created our fossil-fuel powered grid.

“The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing.  Not so with technology.”  E.F. Schumacher

The Living Grid is provoking us to look beyond carbon reductions at the mismatch between our human energy system and the wider, living energy system that’s evolved here over the last 3.8 billion years of life.   Rather than cycle solar energy through a closed-loop, cooperative system – as other life forms do around here – our linear, centralised grid releases energy into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, wasting it rather than recapturing it. ‘What it would take to make our alien energy system part and parcel of nature again? 

As founding technology partner, Open Energi is proud to have helped bring the Living Grid into existence with our customers Aggregate Industries, Sainsbury’s, Tarmac and United Utilities.  As the Living Grid grows, we’re pleased that other organisations who share its vision, such as Smartest Energy, are getting involved to usher-in the next stage of development. This next next phase is starting with a global, online conversation to reimagine our legacy grid.  Are you curious about how nature would design our energy system?  Join the debate here.

The Living Grid is a project convened by Forum for the Future.  To find out more about the Living Grid and how you could get involved please contact: g.adams@forumforthefuture.org or h.hauf@forumforthefuture.org


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.