Tackling the peaks

The UK’s energy supply is a balancing act like no other – managing demand takes careful planning and experience. David Hill, Business Development Director at Open Energi, explains why Demand Side Response (DSR) is a game changing evolution in the way we manage our energy.

Demand Side Response (DSR) is a system that sees energy users voluntarily making changes to their consumption patterns in order to benefit the whole system. Recent fears over the security of our electricity supply have seen this innovation increasingly in the spotlight.

But is DSR simply a solution to our short-term capacity crisis or will it bring about long-term changes in how our energy system works? At Open Energi we believe that DSR is a-game changing, permanent evolution – one that will enable our transition to a zero carbon economy without impacting end users.

The Internet of Things

Driving this evolution is the Internet of Things (IoT), a term coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 to describe increased levels of machine-to-machine communication and improved connectivity. Advances in IoT have opened up a range of new possibilities for the way many businesses work.

Robin Chase, CEO of Zipcar, argues the answer to many of the challenges facing the global economy is to create internet driven platforms which exploit excess capacity or inefficiencies in existing infrastructure.

A great example is Airbnb. It enables people to advertise a room or property when it is not in use. The wasted asset is your home and the excess capacity is the space you are not using.

By creating a user-friendly platform and giving homeowners the security they need they have built the biggest hotel chain in the world, surpassing the Intercontinental Group in less than four years. They have achieved this without constructing a single thing.

Around 10% of all demand can be quickly and predictably shifted without affecting business processes.

The premise of DSR is the same. The system combines small amounts of excess capacity in electrical appliances such as pumps, fans and fridges, to create a distributed storage technology. By switching them on or off for a few minutes at a time it can adjust energy demand to meet available supply in real-time without affecting the end user.

And because these assets already exist, it is possible to combine these small amounts of stored energy and build a virtual power station at a fraction of the cost of building a grid scale battery, a pumped hydro system or a new gas or coal-fired plant.

Tackling the peaks

For the energy market, the ability to connect and control assets in real-time from anywhere in the world means that we can finally start to address some of the fundamental inefficiencies created by a system built for peaks.

These peaks only happen for short periods and as a result, depending on the time of day, between 30-40% of the UK’s electricity infrastructure (encompassing both generation capacity and the networks) is underutilised.If we could flexibly shift demand to flatten these peaks and maximise the use of our current infrastructure we could deliver efficiency gains that would unlock huge savings to consumers. We estimate around 10% of all demand can be quickly and predictably shifted without affecting business processes.

The future’s bright for DSR

The economics are compelling and this is why Open Energi believes that DSR is an essential part of the new energy economy. It can enable system-wide change; increasing network efficiency, reducing the cost of wholesale energy, facilitating the introduction of clean energy sources and building a circular economy where productivity is enhanced and energy users are rewarded for taking positive action. It’s win-win all round.