Could demand response solve the university challenge of reducing student energy use?

Oxford Brookes University has become one of the first educational establishments in the UK to use demand response as a way of reducing energy usage in student accommodation.

Oxford Brookes University. The new partnership between Open Energi and Prefect Controls will see student bedrooms provide crucial flexibility to the UK grid using demand response

Oxford Brookes University. The new partnership between Open Energi and Prefect Controls will see student bedrooms provide crucial flexibility to the UK grid using demand response

The University has this week signed a 10-year contract with demand response aggregator Open Energi and energy saving control systems designer Prefect Controls to implement technology that could solve the problem of students leaving heating on when rooms are unoccupied, or opening windows instead of turning down heating.

The site, which educates more than 17,000 students, will roll out demand response systems to 71 water tanks on campus, following a successful trial period. It also plans to fit 300 on-campus heaters with the technology, which could result in more than 700kW of potential energy savings.

‘Smarter system’

Gavin Hodgson, an energy and carbon reduction specialist at the University, said: “Oxford Brookes wants to leave a positive mark on the world and the pioneering work we have done with Open Energi and Prefect Controls typifies our innovative and enthusiastic approach to sustainability.

“By aggregating flexible demand from our student accommodation and making this available in real-time, we are helping to build a smarter, more sustainable energy system for the UK.”

The smart devices installed around the University will essentially adjust energy use in real-time to help balance electricity supply and demand whilst going unnoticed by students and staff. This will allow the national grid to tap into a potential 8MW of flexible energy from the university network.

Scaling up

This announcement also marks the launch of a new partnership between Open Energi and Prefect Controls. Open Energi’s technology will installed alongside the 'Prefectirus' system, enabling the aggregator to communicate with multiple devices over Prefect Controls’ network in order to automatically and invisibly shift energy demand, so that National Grid can better manage fluctuations in supply and demand across the country. 

This is the first time Open Energi has accessed a client’s load via a third party, which it sees as an important part of a longer-term strategy to scale DSR in the UK.

This comes off the back of a number of Open Energi demand response projects developed with other universities, including the University of Central Lancashire, Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of East Anglia which have all focused on providing dynamic energy demand solutions across their campuses.

Open Energi and Prefect Controls are now looking to roll out demand response technologies to more universities across the UK in an effort to drive energy efficiency in a sector that has fallen behind its collective 2020 carbon reduction target, with absolute emissions increasing in the last full academic year.

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Open Energi commercial manager Chris Kimmett said: “Demand response is changing the way universities around the country manage their energy demand and provides the academic community with the opportunity to generate additional revenue streams which can then be reinvested to support the development of students and staff. The partnership represents an important stage of our longer-term strategy to rapidly scale [demand response] across the UK.”  

Flexible future

Demand Response technologies are now a key focus for creating a more flexible and future-proof electricity grid. National Grid has noticed the potential of demand response technologies and has launched an initiative called Power Responsive which aims to deliver demand response at a much larger scale by 2020.

Whilst the technology is still in its infancy, the potential of a communicative network that intelligently increases, decreases or shifts energy to different areas of the country is a reality that many sectors are investing in as a means of reducing energy costs and mitigating the environmental impact of their businesses.

Earlier this month, the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) claimed that businesses could provide electricity equivalent to output of six new power stations – lowering national costs by £8.1bn - by flexing demand when required.

Alex Baldwin & Luke Nicholls


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