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A network of firms is cutting their demand for power at peak times to ease pressure on the UK’s overstretched grid
Four UK companies have agreed to cut their demand for electricity at times of high demand as part of an initiative to create a more flexible energy system.
Sainsbury’s, Aggregate Industries, United Utilities and Tarmac are the first members of a new partnership led by NGO Forum for the Future that aims to build a network of 20 companies that will contribute 200MW of flexible capacity to the National Grid by 2020.
The first four alone are projected to free up 39MW of energy capacity by 2020, equivalent to almost 90,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Companies participating in the Living Grid use smart technology supplied by energy specialist Open Energi to feed information from their machinery to National Grid. Instantaneous adjustments to their energy requirements reduce demand at peak times or increase it when there is surplus capacity. Open Energi this month won a prestigious Ashden Sustainable Energy Award for its dynamic demand technology.
The UK faces an electricity supply deficit in the coming decade, with coal-fired power stations being phased out by 2025 to meet the UK’s climate targets and the retirement of most of its ageing nuclear fleet, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Smoothing out the peaks in demand could mean fewer power stations will need to be commissioned to fill that gap, which in turn means the overall system can be run with less power, cutting CO2 emissions, Forum for the Future says. It also removes one of the big barriers to bringing more renewable energy, which is intermittent in nature, onto the grid.
Gemma Adams, head of innovation at Forum for the Future, says the initiative aims to demystify the energy market. “Even experts in this field will talk about how challenging the terrain is and the jargon that is used,” Adams says. The name Living Grid, she says, speaks to Forum for the Future’s aim “to borrow inspiration from nature” in pursuit of a more flexible and adaptive network.
Paul Crewe, head of Sustainability at Sainsbury’s, says that by getting involved in the Living Grid from an early stage, Sainsbury's wants to highlight its benefits to other companies. “We would encourage others to follow our lead in this area. As with anything like this, it will be even more impactful as more organisations get behind it.” He would not be drawn, however, on whether Sainsbury’s would be urging its suppliers to join.
Through the Firm Frequency Response market, National Grid provides funding to companies that link their machinery to the grid through smart technology. Forum for the Future says United Utilities is expected to earn up to £5m from the Firm Frequency Response market by 2020.
It’s got to be green
Professor Paul Ekins, director of the Institute for Sustainable Resources at University College London, welcomes the Living Grid initiative, but says it will only make energy generation more sustainable if it enables renewable forms of energy to be integrated into the grid.
Adams concedes the technology does not favour renewables in particular. “It could foster any kind of energy. What we’re trying to [highlight] is that while it could support any future for our energy system, it lends itself particularly well to renewable energy, which is by nature quite intermittent. It’s been a problem because the grid isn’t responsive enough to handle that, whereas with smart technologies there’s so much more potential to use renewables at scale.”
A more immediate sustainability benefit may result from the new Innovation Fund, which will receive a proportion of Open Energi’s revenues from the Firm Frequency Response market. Though precise details of the fund’s work are still being scoped out, Adams says it will seed-fund ideas and make collaborations happen, helping to convene organisations around “issues that stand in the way of the transition to a truly living energy system”.EthicsWatch energy system emissions living grid climate renewable energy sustainability smart grid