Scotland urged to exploit ‘virtual power plants’ through demand response

Green groups, opposition parties and renewable energy industry bodies have unanimously called on the Scottish Government to embrace 'demand response' energy efficiency measures in favour of building more costly and dirty fossil fuel power stations.

WWF Scotland, Scottish Renewables and the Scottish Greens have all told edie of the need for the nation’s political parties to commit to a comprehensive national strategy to help homes and businesses reduce and manage their demand for electricity.

Universities, banks, supermarkets and datacentres could act as ‘virtual power plants’, voluntarily lowering their demand for electricity and therefore avoiding the need to turn on conventional power stations, the organisations claim.

“It’s far cheaper to reduce our electricity demand than it is to build new power stations that are only used for short periods of time,” said WWF Scotland’s climate and policy officer Gina Hanrahan. “If we want to cut consumer bills and lower climate emissions then demand reduction must be a central part of any future energy strategy.

“Scotland’s political parties need to commit to a national strategy to help consumers and businesses cut their demand for electricity by at least 1% a year to 2030.”

Edinburgh-based demand response technology company Flexitricity echoes WWF’s view, with the firm’s chief strategy officer Alastair Martin claiming that a national strategy to reduce energy demand could “increase [Scotland’s] competetiveness while making best use of its indigenous renewable resources and alleviating fuel poverty”.

Power cuts

Across the whole of the UK, the potential for demand response is considerable. Ofgem has previously estimated that demand response could reduce peak demand on a winter weekday by up to 4.4GW.

Some UK businesses are already helping to shape the future of demand response. The Marriott hotel near Regent’s Park in London, for example, recently partnered with local technology company KiWi Power to undergo a radical programme of energy demand reduction.

Everything from the air conditioning in the hotel lounge to the ice coolers in the corridors and the fridges in the kitchens can be turned down at a moment’s notice if the national electricity system requires – all triggered via an automated signal to a set top box. This means the Marriott chain is permanently on stand-by to help cut its power, without customers noticing.

Centre of excellence

In Scotland, Michael Rieley, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, agrees that there is now a need for more businesses to reduce their energy demand.

“As Scotland moves away from an electricity system reliant on fossil fuels to one mainly powered by renewables, there is a clear need for a more flexible approach to how we transmit, store and use the energy we generate from these cleaner alternatives,” said Rieley.

“Our country is already the leading the way as we transition to a low carbon economy, and our ambition should be to become a world-leading centre of excellence in solutions to manage and optimise the electricity network, such as demand-side management.”

Holyrood ahead

Patrick Harvie MSP, economy and energy spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, told edie that demand response has been a “consistent priority” for his party.

“We got Finance Secretary John Swinney to agree with us that energy efficient housing should be a national infrastructure priority and we’ll keep pushing to see that translate into substantial investment,” said Harvie.

“By establishing local, publicly-owned energy companies across Scotland we could speed up the roll out of smart grid technology and traditional energy efficiency measures to create thousands of jobs, alleviate fuel poverty and get our climate targets back on track.”

Last year, Scotland missed its climate change target for the fourth year in a row, sparking urgent calls for political parties to set out more ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections in early May.

Luke Nicholls

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie