Living Grid: British businesses join forces for demand-response energy system

Supermarket chain Sainsbury's, water company United Utilities and construction materials supplier Aggregate Industries have become founding partners of the Living Grid, a new demand-response 'energy ecosystem' which aims to create 200MW of flexible power across the UK.

Initiated by sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future, the Living Grid connects large corporate energy users’ equipment with intelligent demand-side response technology powered by technology parter Open Energi. Businesses can then continuously adjust their electricity usage to adapt to peaks and troughs in demand and supply across the grid, without affecting performance.

As pioneers of the new scheme, Sainsbury’s, United Utilities and Aggregate Industries will be incentivised to turn down electricity-consuming processes during peak periods for the National Grid, to help stabilise the UK’s energy system.

The three companies – which have the potential to provide up to 39MW of flexible capacity – are expected tp generate annual carbon savings of almost 90,000 tonnes by 2020 by being part of the Living Grid. They will also be financially rewarded for their energy-reduction efforts, while the demand-response system will allow them to avoid peak-time energy pricing, thus reducing bills in the long-term.

Forum for the Future’s founder-director Jonathon Porritt said: “Our existing energy system was designed for another era, when our power was supplied by big, fossil fuel generators – and before the internet. It’s old and inefficient and simply isn’t equipped to deal with more higher percentages of renewable energy, more distributed energy, storage and so on. Put this together with the urgent call to achieve a 1.5C future in COP21 and it’s clear the UK energy industry finds itself at a pivotal moment.

“Bizarrely, however, there’s a complete policy vacuum for demonstrating the kind of ambitious path forward that we now need. The Living Grid aims to fill that vacuum, working with leading businesses to show us ‘the art of the possible’ and a future for our energy system that is already available to us if we choose it.”

The Living Grid network aims to recruit 20 organisations to create 200MW of flexible demand across the grid by 2020.

‘Paving the way’

Paul Crewe,head of sustainability, engineering, energy & environment at Sainsbury’s – which accounts for around 1% of the UK’s total energy usage – said: “By joining forces with others to change how we use electricity, we’re saving extra carbon emissions for the UK and helping to make our electricity network more efficient, for the benefit of everyone in the UK.”

Open Energi’s business development director David Hill added that the demand-side response approach to energy management is an efficient and intelligent use of existing resources to cut consumer bills and lower climate emissions.

“Intelligent demand response – which invisibly and automatically flexes electricity consumption in real-time – is paving the way for a completely different electricity market,” said Hill. “A market that doesn’t require polluting peaking power; that can integrate renewable energy efficiently and, most importantly, empowers consumers.”

‘Demand turn-up’

The launch of the Living Grid comes in the same month that the National Grid revealed it will be offering UK businesses money to shift their intensive power demand processes to periods of low demand ahead of a summer that is expected to see the UK generate excess amounts of electricity.

In February, the Grid announced the co-launch of Footroom – a ‘demand turn-up’ pilot scheme that intends to pay manufacturers and other industry to increase energy demand at times when the country’s wind and solar resources are producing more energy than the system can cope with.

George Ogleby

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