National Grid’s new executive director has indicated that the UK is heading towards a “smart energy revolution” fuelled by businesses and households adjusting their electricity demand at peak times.
Speaking to BBC News, Nicola Shaw argued that between 30-50 per cent of fluctuations in the grid could be balanced by households and businesses “thinking about the way they use their power differently”.
"We are at a moment of real change in the energy industry. From an historic perspective, we created energy in big generating organisations that sent power to houses and their businesses. Now we are producing energy in those places, mostly with solar power”, she said.
By flexing their electricity demand to meet the needs of the grid, often called ‘demand-side response’, it is estimated that businesses could provide the equivalent supply of six new power stations by 2020 and reduce their energy costs in the process.
Early adopters are already capturing business benefits from engaging in the concept.
For example, Marriott Hotels has a contract that temporarily turns off its water-chilled air conditioning systems in response to demand peaks on the grid. The effect on temperature is so slight that guests do not notice the difference.
Meanwhile, road materials manufacturer, Aggregate Industries, changes the way it maintains the temperature of stored bitumen depending on grid demand. When a rise in demand is predicted, heating is turned up to maximum beforehand and then turned off until the peak subsides.
Although demand-side response measures are currently targeted at larger energy-intensive companies, services are increasingly available for medium-sized energy users.
Upside Energy, an award-winning north west start-up, is also looking for pilot sites to help develop its plans to open up the market to small businesses and households.
National Grid has also awarded the first contracts under its Enhanced Frequency Response project to provide rapid balancing services to the network using grid-scale battery storage.
The batteries, which will be connected to the grid between April 2017 and February 2018, will provide 200MW of electricity storage capacity that will be able to respond to changes in supply and demand in under one second.
Cordi O’Hara, director at National Grid, said: “We are constantly looking to the future to understand how we can make the most of the energy available to us. This project is at the very core of our Power Responsive work, to balance the grid by the most efficient means possible, saving money and energy.”