Demand side response is often talked and written about. Energy prices go up, climate is changing, renewable energy technologies continue to develop – will we always have electricity available when we want it? How can we as consumers control the cost and what can businesses do to secure the future of our electricity system?   

Electric Mountain sounds like a name of an 80s glam rock band. It is in fact three, massive, hydro power stations, buried in Snowdonia’s national park. Rather than supplying overblown riffs or delivering falsetto in skinny jeans, Electric Mountain delivers gigawatts of electricity at the flick of a switch – all to meet our demand for power when we ask for it.

And we have long taken this for granted – it’s a great success story and mark of the quality of the engineering prowess of this nation in the last century that we can have electricity when we want. But one of the critical challenges in our transition to a low carbon energy system is aligning decentralised power supply with an ever-increasing power demand – will there be enough electricity available to me when I want to start my lathe, or fire the ovens, or even just watch telly? And just how much will that cost?

The National Grid is a brilliant way to ensure that power that is generated in one place is delivered to a user in another location. This is also addressing the old complaint that renewables are intermittent – with renewables distributed across the country capturing the energy of all our island’s weather and tides as well as connections to the continent, renewables are the new base load.

So one way to match supply and demand is to increase supply in the grid. The other side of the coin is cutting demand. There are many incentives to cut your energy use: lower consumption means lower energy costs, fewer carbon emissions, longer operational lifespan for your equipment, etc etc etc.

Now the government is looking to incentivise consumers to reduce consumption at pinch points in the grid, according to this recent Ofgem report. These occur either when demand is particularly high (everyone boiling their kettles in the ad break of EastEnders) or when supply is constrained (low wind conditions, or a gas power station temporarily offline). New rules will mean that you would benefit from reducing your consumption during those times, increasing generation, or running on back-up power, like batteries.

This means that any business with onsite generation (like backup generators, combined heat and power plant, batteries or solar PV) can reap even more benefits from these systems. If you can shift your power supply off the grid and on to these local systems at times when the national grid is constrained – you will be rewarded.

The other option is to reduce consumption in response to the grid – so could you turn off non-critical asset at times when demand across the grid is high? Typically, this could be increasing the set point of your air conditioning – your staff is unlikely to notice that the office is a few degrees warmer for an hour or so, but it might mean that the National Grid can avoid activating expensive, short term reserve like Electric Mountain – 1.8 MW power within 16 seconds is impressive, but at a cost.

Yet another option is to respond to oversupply in the grid – mid-afternoon on a breezy autumn day, when the turbines are spinning and the solar PV is pumping out. Could you adjust your working practice to take advantage of lots of cheap power available in the grid? I try to plan ahead and set my washing machine and dishwasher to run when I know (within the tolerances of the UK weather forecast!) my solar panels will be generating – this applies on the regional or national scale too.

At the moment, we don’t “feel” the cost of balancing supply and demand directly. Many businesses are on fixed price tariffs, enabling you to plan expenditure and monitor efficiencies at a macro level. But as we move to greater flexibility in tariffs and smart meters are rolled out, we will know more accurately the cost of power when we want it, and the financial benefit of responding to the availability of power and maximise the benefit of our existing renewable power generation.

Your business could benefit from the new, flexible energy systems – by turning down demand from the grid during pinch points, by using back up power, like solar PV, battery storage or CHP, or even by shifting your consumption to times of the day when there’s a glut of power in the grid. Do you know what your consumption pattern is like? Could your asset be deployed to take advantage of incentives, by switching off, turning down, or disconnecting from the grid at peak demand?

You can benefit from better understanding and control of your energy use – through reducing your energy bills directly, and through new incentives as part of our future flexible electricity system.

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