Student accommodation helps solve energy challenge

Thanks to an innovative partnership approach to demand side response (DSR), Oxford Brookes is unlocking vital flexibility from its student accommodation blocks. It’s all part of a wider sustainability strategy to leave a positive mark on the world. Gavin Hodgson, Energy and Carbon Reduction Specialist at Oxford Brookes explains.

Oxford Brookes is currently ranked as one of the best modern universities in the UK, topping The Sunday Times’ rankings of modern universities for 11 of the past 12 years. The university serves over 17,000 students from three main campuses in and around Oxford so it’s not surprising that we face a fairly hefty energy bill of around £2.4 million per year.

Of course we’d rather be spending this money on improving our campus and equipment, so we are always looking at ways we can reduce our energy use and become more sustainable.

Positive contribution

At Oxford Brookes, we believe sustainability is a defining issue of our generation. To ensure we respond appropriately we’ve adopted a Net Positive Impact approach. This is a holistic approach designed to help us go beyond reducing our negative impacts and identify ways in which we can make an explicit and verifiable overall positive contribution to society and the environment.

The pioneering DSR project we have worked on with Open Energi and Prefect Controls is a perfect example of this in action. Yes, we’re seeing direct benefits by way of revenue for participating in DSR, but equally it’s enabling us to have an impact beyond our estate and help drive positive change in the electricity system as a whole; supporting greater use of renewables, cutting our reliance on fossil fuelled power stations and creating a smarter, more efficient network.

We were the first university in the UK to take advantage of a new partnership between Open Energi and Prefect Controls to unlock real-time flexibility from student accommodation. It’s the first time Open Energi has implemented its technology via a third party and it will enable multiple smaller loads, like 4kW water heaters and 1.5kW panel heaters, to participate in Dynamic Frequency Response, which is very exciting.

We’re seeing direct benefits by way of revenue for participating in DSR, but equally it’s enabling us to have an impact beyond our estate and help drive positive change in the electricity system as a whole.

For us it was a relatively straightforward process as we already had Prefect Controls’ Prefectirus energy management system installed. We’ve been using it since 2014 to help us reduce energy use across our student accommodation blocks. For example, if the heating is left on in a student bedroom which is empty, the system will spot this and turn it down automatically.

Open Energi is able to connect with our equipment via Prefect Controls’ network and ask heaters and hot water tanks in our student accommodation blocks to automatically and invisibly shift their energy consumption to help National Grid balance electricity supply and demand across the country. By aggregating flexible demand from our student accommodation and making this available in real-time we are helping to build a smarter, more sustainable energy system for the UK.

Success leads to growth

We started late last year by trialling the technology across 5 water tanks providing hot water to 30 student rooms. We had no issues whatsoever and most importantly, neither did any of our students. Because equipment can only respond if it is within its normal operating parameters i.e. temperature bands, there’s no risk of water getting too hot or too cold.

Off the back of this success, we have signed a 10-year agreement with Open Energi. Our aim is to integrate DSR across a total of 71 tanks with a second phase planned to target 300 panel heaters, representing over 700kW in total.

We’re really proud of the role we’re playing in helping to transform our energy system and hope what we have done will encourage other universities to follow suit. Electrically heated student accommodation uses an estimated 378MW of power so imagine the impact if we could tap into it all.

Water pumps get in on the balancing act

Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water is a not-for-profit water company committed to serving its customers. Thanks to demand side response (DSR), it has found that managing its energy demand more flexibly means it can do the right thing for its customers and the country. Mike Pedley, Head of Energy for Welsh Water, explains more.

At Welsh Water we have a very wide strategy to invest in energy efficiency, energy generation and indeed DSR and other forms of tariff optimisation. Our not-for-profit model helps the company take a long term view when it comes to investing in low carbon and sustainable technologies which will run for many years and provide long term benefit for our customers.

Currently, we have some 56 sites generating renewable energy, which includes about 6MW of solar and 14MW of hydro. In addition, we’ve got around 11 anaerobic digestion sites. We plan to continue rolling out renewable generation as long as it delivers acceptable returns for the company and our customers.

A flexible approach

DSR is also something we’re doing more of. We’re aware that it is increasingly important to National Grid, and therefore the UK, to help balance the system cost-effectively, but from our perspective it’s a potential way of getting financial benefit from using our assets flexibly. Thanks to our not-for-profit model, if we benefit from it, then so do our customers.

We’ve contracted with National Grid directly for a couple of their DSR schemes (last winter’s Demand Side Balancing Reserve and this summer’s Demand Turn-up) but following an open tender and successful trial, we’ve also started working with Open Energi on dynamic frequency response.

From our perspective it’s a potential way of getting financial benefit from using our assets flexibly.

The service helps National Grid with its second by second balancing of electricity supply and demand, and responds automatically to changes in frequency. So if there’s a sudden shortfall in supply, instead of National Grid asking a power station to ramp up, Open Energi can ask our pumps to slow down temporarily. Similarly, if there is excess power being supplied – say it was particularly windy or sunny – our pumps could increase their consumption to alleviate pressure on the grid and ensure no energy goes to waste. The key thing for us is our equipment is in control, and we set the parameters within which it can respond. We have found that if our pumps operate a little faster or a little slower for a few minutes at a time, that doesn’t impact our processes or customers.

What next?

Right now we’re targeting 25 sites and expect to have around 5MW of flexible demand. If that roll-out proves successful we’ll look at other assets to see whether we can expand its use. Not all of our assets are suitable but there are some that work well with this technology and I am sure that the same is true of a lot of businesses. I would expect more companies to adopt this type of technology for some of their assets. Increasingly in the UK now, companies can benefit from using their assets as flexibly as possible and that also helps the country.

Cast iron case for Firm Frequency Response

James Brand, Managing Director of United Cast Bar, a leading foundry based in Chesterfield, is a firm fan of Firm Frequency Response (FFR). Here he explains why.

United Cast Bar (UK) is a major player in the continuous cast iron bar market, producing up to 45,000 tonnes of continuous cast iron bar annually and with our own distribution network in Europe. We have the largest portfolio among our peers worldwide, offering a wide range of sizes and formats. Approximately 90% of the foundry’s output is exported, 80% to EU countries.

Our journey towards FFR began when I discovered a little about the scheme and decided to investigate further. We always need to be on the lookout for additional revenue streams to support our success in the marketplace, and it seemed like a good way for United Cast Bar to earn extra income in a manageable format.

What I found was that FFR is part of National Grid’s demand side response (DSR) portfolio and, in simple terms, is the generation or removal of load from the electricity grid to stabilise frequency.

National Grid is prepared to pay companies to participate in FFR as it has an obligation to ensure that sufficient generation and/or demand is held in automatic readiness to manage all eventualities that might result in frequency variations. National Grid offers those taking part the potential to earn extra income from their assets by automatically adjusting power consumption in real time.

High rewards

The financial and operational benefits for companies taking part can be significant, with the potential to earn high rewards for every megawatt (MW) of average onsite energy consumption saved. This is in return for around six (on average) ‘turn-down’ events per year, lasting for a maximum of 30 minutes each.

The opportunity to earn significant sums for a controlled risk meant I was prepared to take it to the next stage, and the Cast Metals Federation, of which we are members, put me in touch with GridBeyond. After an informative presentation from them, I discussed it with my management team and we set the process in motion.

Optimised returns

GridBeyond is an aggregator and a technology leader in smart grid optimisation. It helps businesses such as ours to make the right choices and optimise returns. In addition, it takes care of the necessary hardware and software installation, as well as the online monitoring and reaction systems, and the day-to-day running of the system. All of this is provided without any capex requirement, with the aggregator simply taking a share of the scheme pay-out.

We decided that our two main Inductotherm melting furnaces would be suitable assets to shut down during an FFR event. Furnaces are the most energy-intensive items at any foundry and it was estimated that this would provide an average available load of 1.972 MW for the FFR service. On receiving a control signal, the melt furnaces can be turned off within 10 seconds. After 30 minutes, the furnaces can be restarted automatically following the required sequence.

The financial and operational benefits for companies taking part can be significant, with the potential to earn high rewards for every megawatt (MW) of average onsite energy consumption saved.

For peace of mind, we contacted Inductotherm, who manufactured the furnaces, to come in and check that their equipment would be compatible. Inductotherm gave us the all-clear and we happily moved forwards.

If the power is turned down on our melt furnaces for 30 minutes we simply lose a few degrees of temperature which we make up on restart. In addition, we have a manual override option if for any reason there is a health and safety issue or other concern.

Generating revenue

We went live with FFR in February this year, and were generating full revenue from the scheme in the third month after paying down hardware and software costs, and revenue could conceivably rise further in line with increases in production volumes.

There are other benefits too. For instance, GridBeyond has created a personalised optimisation dashboard that presents data such as energy consumption, which is great for our own energy and asset management plans.

Another advantage of working with an aggregator such as GridBeyond is it gives us a futureproof platform so if response schemes change over time we will be technology-ready to access more financially attractive tariffs. GridBeyond’s advanced platform makes switching easy to facilitate.