Costain develops new demand response solutions

Engineering solutions provider Costain works on some of UK’s most demanding infrastructure projects, including the capital’s ambitious Crossrail programme. In 2014 it launched the COdemand venture to help customers tap into the potential of the demand side. As Sustainable Solutions Advisor Christopher Hills explains, it represents a growing opportunity.

Whether we are delivering a complex rail infrastructure project or managing assets for our customers in the water sector, energy security is a big issue.

With around 15% of the UK’s total electricity demand met through grid balancing at present there is a clear opportunity for demand response to provide a cheaper and cleaner solution. At the same time lots of businesses are unaware that they could harness their existing assets more effectively.

Short Term Operating Reserve (STOR) represents a total of about 2GW of reserve (or backup energy) that can be called on at short notice if there is a sudden loss of power anywhere on the system.

It’s a relatively new area for Costain, but already we’re seeing a lot of interest and that’s why we established COdemand– a portfolio of solutions in this arena – as a way of helping customers get smarter about how they manage their energy loads.

Partnerships in place

To combine our own sector knowledge with wider demand side expertise we created two partnerships. The first is with Open Energi to offer their Dynamic Demand solution that fine tunes organisations’ power consumption and gives more flexibility to manage the electricity network. We have since expanded the portfolio through a second agreement with Flexitricity to offer Frontline (Frequency Control by Demand Management), STOR (Short Term Operating Reserve), Footroom (Negative Reserve) and the Capacity Market.

To date we are working with customers in two specific sectors – water and rail – although there are very clear applications for demand response technology in other areas of our work, including oil and gas, highways and the power sector.

Our teams are often working side-by-side with customers at their sites and so have first-hand knowledge of how assets might be used more efficiently. Applicable assets include heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; boilers, pumps, fans, UPSs and back-up generators. Some of our customers also operate combined heat and power (CHP) plants.

Scale isn’t everything

One of the myths about demand response is that it is only relevant to the very largest businesses with manufacturing plants spread across multiple sites. We’re saying to customers: “This is something that every company can play a part in.”

As an example we are employing Dynamic Demand technology at our own head office in Maidenhead. Dynamic Demand linked to the HVAC system at Costain House and is operating 365 days a year, allowing corrective action to be taken in response to changes in grid frequency.

One of the other benefits of the technology is that it provides a second-by-second analysis of electricity use so that energy efficiencies can be identified, potentially cutting energy costs and reducing CO2 output.

One of the myths about demand response is that it is only relevant to the very largest businesses.

Towards Smarter Cities

Taking a longer-term perspective, there is plenty of debate about creating Smart Cities and how technology can drive society towards improved sustainability. Certainly we believe that demand response has a part to play.

When we introduce customers to the idea we sometimes talk about the concept of constructing a virtual power station – one built to run ultra-efficiently and provide electricity exactly when needed. When set against the cost, environmental impact and time needed to build entirely new power stations, the benefits of demand response are clear.

So, where next? While industry accounts for a significant slice of UK energy consumption, (about 16% in 2013), domestic consumption stands at around 29%, so to realise the full potential of demand response the way we use energy at home is the next big opportunity. The advent of smart meters offers a glimpse of what is possible, but unlocking the full potential of the domestic market still has a long way to go.