Demand-response ‘makes complete sense’ for heavy industry

EXCLUSIVE: The business case for demand-response now makes "complete sense" and should be exploited alongside other emerging green technologies such as battery storage systems, one of Britain's largest construction materials suppliers has said.

Speaking exclusively to edie, Aggregate Industries’ head of sustainability Donna Hunt said that using demand-response was a “no-brainer” for her firm, as it saves energy, cuts carbon emissions and provides a new revenue stream.

“All sustainability professionals are looking for ways to reduce risks and costs for future energy,” Hunt said. “How can you reduce your costs, emissions, and carbon?

“For us, [demand-response] makes complete sense because it turns equipment off when it’s not critical. It doesn’t affect operations, so it’s not a ‘risk’ to us. We’re not producing any energy when it’s off, so we’re not emitting any carbon. We’re also generating a revenue, just for making equipment available whether it is called on or not to participate – it just makes sense all round.”

Grid revolution

Hunt recently contributed to a recent report in the build-up to the National Grid’s new Winter Outlook paper, which highlighted the numerous advantages that demand-response had provided for Aggregate Industries, and encouraged other businesses to follow suit.

In 2013, Aggregate Industries equipped bitumen tanks at over 40 of its asphalt plants across the UK with demand-response technology. This rollout collectively delivered more than 3MW to National Grid and brought about significant revenues for Aggregate in return. By 2020, Hunt confirmed that the company expects to be able to free up 5MW of flexible capacity for National Grid; equating to 11,380 tonnes of carbon savings per year.

Aggregate Industries’ sustainability chief is somewhat surprised that the firm’s demand-response success has not been replicated on a wider scale across the UK, with demand-response systems contributing to less than 1% of the country’s total energy market. However, change is happening gradually, with more than 700 organisations incorporating demand-response into their operations since the National Grid launched its Power Responsive collaborative campaign earlier this year.

Hunt believes the increased uptake demonstrates that businesses are uniquely placed to pave the way for a more flexible, responsive energy system, but also recognises a need for improved awareness about a technology she believes should be “revolutionising the way we work with the grid”.

“I think all heavy industry should be looking at it,” she added. “We’re all connected on the grid anyway so we should be doing it the other way around, not just in terms of demand.

“I guess businesses want to see what the value-case is. They need the confidence and trust in it. It’s not new technology but it’s perhaps not at scale yet. That’s a big reason why Aggregate Industries is proud to be out there talking about how it works. We should be doing more of it because we need a more responsive energy system that works for everyone.

“We need to prove that value-case, share knowledge and open doors. We just need there to be a level playing field between the aggregators to remove the confusion so people are clear about how they can engage.”

‘Long way to go’

Demand-response forms a key part of Aggregate Industries’ sustainability strategy, which broadly focuses on how to operate as a responsible business and benefit others where possible.

The company utilises its research centre in Lyon to explore the opportunities of other emerging technologies such tidal and hydropower. Hunt also explained that a circular-thinking approach is firmly in place to influence end-clients about end-of-life product scenarios. She is clear about the path Aggregate Industries’ energy management approach will take in the future.

“For us, our next steps would be to combine demand-response with battery storage to really make the most of a flexible energy system,” she said. “We use demand-response to turn things off at the right time which works to flatten out supply, but we are also exploring storage to re-maximise it. The prices of batteries are coming down; they are getting smaller, neater and faster – so that’s the next stage for us.”

Aggregate Industries is part of a construction industry which is gradually moving sustainability higher up the corporate agenda. Wolverhampton-based firm Carillion recently revealed an additional £33.8m to its overall profits in its latest CSR report, thanks to an increased focus on sustainable business practices. Meanwhile, fellow construction business Tarmac has ramped up its own energy efficiency efforts through the rollout of various new on-site sustainability technologies and the development of an energy management system.

Nevertheless, the built environment still demands around 40% of the world’s extracted materials. Hunt believes the whole sector must continue to build trust, share best-practice sustainability approaches and prove that emerging technologies work in practice, in order to accelerate the shift to a low-carbon, resource-efficient industry.

“I think there’s still a long way to go to join up the construction value chain, so end-users feel that they have more of a choice or are able to influence it more,” Hunt said. “We have lots of great ideas, R&D and technologies that can do amazing things but it’s about who is ultimately going to finance it for it to be able to be used.”

Central focus

Hunt recognises the value of cross-sector partnership in driving industry-wide sustainability progress. Earlier this year, Aggregate Industries became a founding partner of the Living Grid, a new collaborative demand-response ‘energy ecosystem’ which aims to create 200MW of flexible power across the UK. Hunt also said her company’s ongoing collaboration with demand-response technology provider Open Energi has helped both organisations to “learn, grow and develop”.

When asked for her key advice for businesses looking to drive energy management improvements, Hunt urged sustainability professionals to embrace the advances in technology and ensure innovation forms a crucial part of a company’s strategy.

“Make sure you’ve got a key central focus in your business,” she concluded. “There’s a lot of things in business that require attention and we’ve all got different priorities. If you’ve got carbon and emissions reductions firmly in your strategy then that helps, so work on that.

“Make sure you are plugged in to academic organisations, that you are looking at best-practice technologies. Do your homework on what’s growing; how it’s working. Then you need to be looking at how you can apply those things in your organisation. If there’s the opportunity ot trial something, trial it. Do it on a small scale, and if you’re happy it will work, scale it.”

George Ogleby

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