Changing Energy Habits

By Dan Cash

01 July 2016

National Grid recently hosted the second Power Responsive Conference in London. This event brought together organisations representing all aspects of the electricity network to discuss the future of demand-side response.

‘Demand-side response’ is a scheme where customers are given financial incentive to lower or shift their electricity use at peak times. Currently we use electricity as and when we want it, be that turning on the TV or starting the washing machine. Turning on these appliances creates a demand for power. In the background, electrical generation plants are being controlled precisely to meet demand, second by second. This balancing act between supply and demand is managed by the National Grid.

Historically the control of the electricity network has been relatively simple. Most demand was met by thermal power plants using fossil fuels. Need more power? Burn more fuel. Demand-side response introduces a means for National Grid to effectively turn off non-essential devices which are using power. This is important because there is now an increasing amount of power being produced from renewable energy sources such as wind turbines. But energy generated from these sources is predictable but less reliable, introducing another complexity in the control of the electricity grid. 

The conference was a glossy event and clearly emphasised the importance being placed on this subject. In the opening session, Andrew Wright, Senior Partner in Energy Systems at Ofgem was quoted as saying that in the future, energy flexibility will be much more valuable than energy efficiency, i.e. when you use power will become more important than how much you use.

This initial session was followed by Phil Graham of the relatively new National Infrastructure Commission discussing their Smart Power Report (available here). This organisation attempts to provide a more holistic view across industries and provide strategic advice for improving the national infrastructure. They presented a view where demand-side response sits alongside power interconnection across Europe and energy storage, as critical for decarbonisation of the energy network.

So what does this mean for buildings? Clearly switching things off is not always practical. This however applies more to the devices we use to live and work. For larger buildings there are items of plant operating in the background such as fans and pumps which can be turned off for brief periods without significant impacts on comfort and operation. This can allow building owners to access the significant financial incentives to implement demand response.

Up to now if a building operator wanted to implement demand-side response they would approach an aggregator who controls assets in a number of buildings in order to provide a demand response service to the grid. This model now seems to be threatened by companies which offer demand response as part of their services as an energy supplier. These companies include Limejump and our neighbours Tempus Energy.

As designers it is likely that we will increasingly need to look at techniques, to be incorporated at design stage, to accommodate the addition of demand-side response in buildings.



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