Where DSR is a matter of degree

The University of East Anglia has around 15,000 students and 4,000 staff, spread over a campus of 320 acres just outside Norwich. This centre of higher education has found that the benefits of Demand Side Response (DSR) are, well… elementary. Martyn Newton, Assistant Director of Estates and Buildings, explains why.

Our site has a power consumption rate of some 5.5MW during the day, dropping to 2.8MW at night. In winter, it’s about 6MW and 3.2MW respectively. Back in 1999, we put in a Combined Heat and Power system and we generate about 60% of our power on-site with gas engines.

We have three 1MW engines installed in 1999, plus a 1.7MW unit included in 2008 that provide us with 6MW of heat if all running. It’s much more economical for us to buy gas at 2p a kilowatt and generate electricity at 6 to 7 p/kWh rather than buy it in at 10 to 11p a kilowatt and off-set running gas boilers for heat. It is right both from an economical and environmental perspective, because it reduces our carbon signature considerably.

A question of usage

Open Energi came to us about DSR and although we can’t vary the load greatly – a few minutes would be fine but a long period of 30 minutes would be difficult – we gave serious consideration to what we could do across campus. For example, we have a permanent air extraction system ventilating student residence buildings taking air out of shower pods. It was a case of ‘Does it really matter if it goes off for a few minutes? No, not really.’ Similarly, we have an art gallery on site that has around 30 air handling units. Does it really matter if they stop ventilating for a few minutes? Again, the answer is no.

The question we kept asking ourselves is ‘Would the customer really be affected?’ There are many benefits from our point of view. We realised that we can earn an income from operating our equipment slightly differently, the system is still under our control and we don’t have any expenditure in putting in the new system. We’re now considering more projects, such as the Olympic swimming pool, chilling equipment and sports hall ventilation. We can make available around 400kW currently and we can perhaps get to 0.5MW or a bit more in the next phase.

 We realised that we can earn an income from operating our equipment slightly differently.

Income generator

It’s completely automatic. The Open Energi box measures the local frequency of the mains. It senses it’s going down and says ‘That’s a bit too low’, and will then shed some of our load within two seconds. If frequency goes too high, then it puts on a bit of load.

The system has an accurate electricity meter that’s measuring everything so it can prove to National Grid that the event is really happening. National Grid is happy to pay Open Energi, and Open Energi pays us. A few other universities have come to have a look at it and have done something similar.

I think there’s quite a potential for Demand Side Response out there but there hasn’t been the incentive. We also haven’t had the technology to take advantage of it previously – the internet and the building management controllers that can act on all these variable factors.

We are now actually generating an income, just for operating our utilities slightly differently. It’s helping the country, the environment in terms of carbon emissions, we’re getting some money for it, and can disable it if we have to. So, for UEA it has been a case of ‘Why not?’”