Blustery Britain brings windfall for businesses with new demand response scheme

Days when Britain's renewable energy output is at its greatest could prove to be a money-spinner for energy-intensive businesses under a new automated 'demand turn-up' service being piloted by National Grid.

Under the new scheme, called Footroom, manufacturers and other industry will be paid to increase energy demand at times when the country’s wind and solar resources are producing more energy than the system can cope with.

Alastair Martin, chief strategy officer of demand response provider Flexitricity – which developed the system – explained: “Currently, when the wind is at its strongest, the Grid turns large power stations down or off. But it can’t turn down all of them, so sometimes it has to turn off some of the wind farms. This wastes a free resource.

“With Footroom, businesses can boost productivity for minimal extra cost and are incentivised to do so. In turn, the Grid can increase the amount of electricity distributed to homes from clean, renewable energy sources.”

How it works

Flexitricity has been providing ‘Headroom’ to National Grid – extra energy from industrial users when there’s not enough coming from traditional power stations – since 2008. Footroom is the opposite: it is used when renewable sources are producing more than the system can cope with.

Footroom will allow industrial, commercial and public-sector sites to earn revenue if they can either decrease generation or increase electricity consumption on request. It works by sending a signal to connected businesses, notifying them of an approaching increase in wind and the opportunity to increase demand. Those who do respond receive a payment in addition to the extra electricity.

For example, a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generator could shut down for a short period, or a water pumping station could pump more at a time required by National Grid. This requirement would likely increase in the summer months, especially overnight or at weekends.

National Grid has now adopted Footroom under a service called Demand Turn-Up (DTU), with a draft service agreement released today (11 February). DTU will launch as a pilot this May, targeting the toughest periods in summer when both solar and wind generation can be high while demand is low.

Competetive edge

Flexitricity believes this new scheme has enormous potential in the UK due to the nation’s relatively high winds – Scotland is the windiest country in Europe, contributing to around 25% of Europe’s overall wind resource. In 2014, enough electricity was generated from Scottish wind turbines to power 164% of the country’s households. 

“Scotland has a huge advantage as it has Europe’s largest share of this clean source of power,” added Martin. “With Footroom, we are able to unlock the potential we cannot currently tap into and help deliver cleaner, more abundant power to our businesses and households. This will have a huge impact across the whole of the UK – and could give businesses connected to the system a competitive edge over European competitors.”

In a blog post published today, Flexitricity’s service development engineer Saskia Barker reiterated the potential business benefits of Footroom, but noted that the firm won’t recruit deliberate waste into the new system.

“Turning on the lights in an empty building isn’t the right way to balance renewable generation,” Barker wrote. “Similarly, we don’t expect hydro generators to participate if they don’t have a reservoir to store the water for later use.

“Footroom doesn’t require a radical overhaul of business consumption or generator patterns… With short-duration, low-impact changes to when a site consumes or generates, industrial and commercial energy users can earn revenue, help absorb renewable energy and make the national electricity system cheaper and greener.”

Rising demand

Last month, edie reported that Scottish NGOs, political parties and renewable energy industry bodies were unanimously calling on the Scottish Government to embrace ‘demand response’ energy efficiency measures in favour of building more costly and dirty fossil fuel power stations.

Later in January, Flexitricity’s Martin wrote an exclusive feature for edie, highlighting the role of business in developing a robust, reliable demand side response (DSR) mechanism to fill in for failing power stations.

Luke Nicholls

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