Industry View

When will we become carbon-free? It could be up to large energy consumers…

Sustainability breakthroughs have been the theme of 2019 so far. With environmental campaigners such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion dominating the media agenda, politicians are starting to take notice, as the argument for climate-change denial becomes ever weaker in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.

 

In June, the government set a legally binding net-zero CO2 emission target, while National Grid celebrated a record-breaking coal-free period of 18 days, the longest in modern history.

 

National Grid is committed to a fully decarbonised system by 2025. But if this ambitious goal is to be realised within the next five years, all participants in the energy network, including energy users, need to get on board and contribute.

 

Decarbonisation through digitalisation

 

Decarbonisation is only possible through digitalisation. The energy mix nowadays is infinitely more complex than the one that powered our cities 100 years ago. Homes and businesses now run on electricity generated by wind and solar farms, hydro power, gas and nuclear plants, biomass and more. All of these exist on both a large grid-scale and decentralised, local levels, which need to be managed to balance supply and demand. Such complex systems require advanced technology to be handled effectively. In addition to the diversity of supply, demand has increased because of the digitalisation of our lifestyles, including the proliferation of electric vehicles, which puts pressure on the electricity system.

For this reason, National Grid financially rewards energy-intensive businesses that are willing to make small changes to their energy consumption. Consumer involvement may be necessary when, due to the unpredictability of the weather, there is not enough renewable wind or solar energy available to meet demand, or an interconnector fails to operate.

This creates multiple opportunities for large businesses interested in exploring and monetising the energy flexibility in their assets.

This creates multiple opportunities for large businesses interested in exploring and monetising the energy flexibility in their assets. In energy terms, flexibility is identifying the lowest and highest amounts of energy a piece of equipment can consume while operating as intended. This means that some assets, such as refrigerators, can perform equally well whether working at -25°C or -20°C. But the difference in the volume of energy they consume on each setting might make or break National Grid’s job of balancing demand and supply at a country level.

 

GridBeyond is a technology provider supporting the transition into a no-carbon future system. The company places high-end hardware on industrial and commercial sites, connects them to a cloud-based platform, aggregates the data and uses machine-learning technology to ascertain participation in grid-balancing programmes without impact on-site operations. “Energy costs are growing, and the experts predict a 40 per cent increase in non-commodity costs over the next four years, but the prices of energy technology are in fact coming down significantly,” explains Co-founder and CEO, Michael Phelan. “This makes it easier for energy users to become more active market players, and by participating in the balancing services they can retrieve some of the money spent on energy consumption.”

 

Leading UK cold storage and temperature-controlled distribution business Reed Boardall partnered with GridBeyond in 2015 to deliver energy services on its site in Yorkshire. “We decided to connect our industrial refrigerators to the intelligent energy platform,” says Managing Director, Andrew Baldwin. “A couple of months later, we started to receive revenue from National Grid for making our energy flexibility available, and generated significant savings by avoiding peak demand charges.

 

“The whole process does not disturb our operations. Quite the opposite – the advanced analytics help us to increase our efficiencies by ensuring each piece of equipment delivers the most value to our business.”

 

Demand for flexibility drives opportunities

 

Currently, National Grid sources approximately two gigawatts of its energy flexibility by collaborating with large industrial and commercial organisations. However, as it pursues its decarbonisation agenda further, it’s expected that in the coming years National Grid will need several times more flexibility that it currently procures.

 

This means that large energy consumers, and the speed at which they implement advanced technologies, will be part of the deciding factor in how quickly our energy network can become fully digitalised and carbon-free.

 

“National Grid knows that businesses play a crucial role in developing a decarbonised energy network,” explains Michael Phelan. “Over £1.3 billion is spent annually to incentivise I&C to increase their energy flexibility.

 

“The businesses that are ready to contribute can do so via an advanced platform, such as GridBeyond’s. The platform enables them to benefit from new revenues from the grid, as well as asset-level optimisation programmes, including benchmarking, production optimisation, fault-finding, predictive maintenance, and price optimisation services, which include peak avoidance and energy trading. It’s all via the same platform, so the benefits are cohesive and form an overall impressive return.”

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