Severn Trent looks towards smart energy future with demand response service

Water firm Severn Trent and clean tech company Open Energi have teamed up to deliver a demand response service which could provide the grid with more than 20MW of flexible capacity by 2020.

Severn Trent, which provides water to 4.5 million homes and businesses across the Midlands and Wales, will unlock demand flexibility from its equipment thanks to Open Energy’s tech platform Dynamic Demand. The technology enables equipment such as pumps, motors and blowers to automatically adjust their electricity use second-by-second with affecting processes.

Severn Trent demand side response manager Rob Wild said that tapping flexibility in existing assets would allow Severn Trent to provide a cheap, low-carbon means of balancing electricity supply and demand, while paving the way for greater use of renewable energy across the UK.

“Ultimately we want to minimise the amount of energy we use whilst providing our customers with the best level of service at the least cost,” Wild said.

“Open Energi’s tech delivers an income, but it also gives us far greater visibility of how our assets are performing, second-by-second. This insight can help us to optimise our sites for the future – pre-empting maintenance issues, improving resiliency, and thinking more smartly about how we integrate other technologies, such as renewable energy and battery storage.”

Greater flexibility

Open Energi’s technology is already in place at two of Severn Trent’s sewage treatment works in Redditch and Leicester, which together provide the grid with around 1.2MW of real-time flexibility. A further six sites are expected to begin providing a demand service from the first quarter of 2018.

Open Energi was awarded a contract with Severn Trent primarily due to its understanding of operational challenges associated with delivering a frequency response service within a highly-regulated, customer-facing industry, the company said.

A next generation platform, Dynamic Demand 2.0, will be launched by Open Energi next month. It will look to optimise distributed energy assets, such as industrial equipment, battery storage, EVs and on-site generation, to help businesses “stack” demand flexibility value streams from various markets and services.

Open Energi’s commercial director David Hill pointed towards last month’s Contract for Difference (CfD) auction results, which saw an all-time low strike price for offshore wind, as evidence that the UK must boost flexible capacity to build a smarter energy system.

Hill said: “Renewable energy achieved a massive milestone last month, as new offshore wind projects undercut the cost of nuclear. This is great news for UK decarbonisation efforts but highlights the urgent need for greater flexibility in our energy system.

“Our partnership with Severn Trent can help to deliver this, and we see huge opportunities to drive further long-term savings for the business as we continue to develop our Dynamic Demand platform.”

System inertia

The UK Energy Research Centre notes that costs of absorbing intermittent renewable generation will “vary enormously” depending on the flexibility of the energy system, with grid operators having to account for costs of curtailment, network reinforcements, maintaining system inertia and the reduced efficiency of thermal generation.

Earlier this month it was revealed that for the first time ever, the National Grid had successfully measured and monitored continuous grid stability across an entire network, in a move that could reduce end-customer costs and carbon emissions in the UK.

Last month, Government figures revealed that low-carbon sources reached a record-high 53.4% share of electricity generation in the second quarter of 2017, with renewables’ share up to 29.8%. While this is good news for the UK’s decarbonisation aspirations, it does place pressure on a grid’s ability to handle increased flexibility, as renewables generate more in favourable weather conditions.

Energy storage is emerging as a potential solution and could mirror how conventional fossil fuel power plants store energy in high-mass rotating equipment, such as steam turbines and gas engines. But the technology is still in its infancy and real-time data analysis will help grids react to the intermittency.

George Ogleby

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