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September 03, 2015
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Making energy smarter in the United Kingdom

Guest blogger David Hill, Business Development Director at Open Energi, explains the challenges of building a virtual power station, and why data is the fuel. Follow Open Energi on @openenergi

Open Energi is working with businesses in the UK to harness the flexible energy demand from their equipment and aggregating it to create a virtual power station. We’re turning the whole system on its head so that instead of energy supply adjusting to meet demand, our demand for energy adjusts to meet supply – in real-time. Known as Demand Response, it’s helping to transform how we use and deliver energy, creating an energy system which is cleaner, cheaper and more secure.

Exploiting excess capacity

Robin Chase, CEO of Zipcar, argues that many of the challenges facing the global economy can be solved with internet driven platforms which exploit excess capacity or inefficiencies in existing infrastructure. Airbnb is a great example of this. The wasted asset is your home and the excess capacity is the space you are not using. By creating a user friendly platform and giving homeowners the security they need they have built the biggest hotel chain in the world, surpassing the Intercontinental Group in less than 4 years. They have achieved this without constructing a single thing.

Demand Response does the same thing, aggregating small amounts of excess capacity in electrical appliances such as pumps, fans and fridges, to create a distributed storage technology. By switching them on or off for a few minutes at a time, the technology can adjust energy demand to meet available supply in real-time without affecting the end user.

Because these assets already exist, it is possible to aggregate up these small amounts of stored energy and build a virtual power station at a fraction of the cost of building a grid scale battery, a pumped hydro system or a new gas or coal-fired plant.

The economics are compelling: The capital cost of building a new peaking power station can be up to £5m per megawatt (MW); pumped storage hydro £2m per MW and battery systems in the region of £0.5m-£1.8m per MW; aggregating a MW of Demand Response via Open Energi’s Dynamic Demand platform costs around £200,000.

An invisible approach

But building a virtual power station isn’t easy and the toughest part of it is also the unwavering principle that lies at the heart of Open Energi’s approach; that our customers should see no change to the operational performance of their kit. In other words, we should be invisible.

In order to achieve this we have to understand their operational processes at a very granular level and operate deep within their equipment control methodology. This enables us to identify where there is flexibility in their demand for energy and how much of it is available, i.e. when can we turn their equipment on or off, how quickly, for how long and how often?

Fueled by Data

This understanding is driven by data. Whilst the Internet of Things is providing the connectivity we need to build a virtual power station, data is powering it. And this is where Hortonworks Data Platform (HDP) comes in. Open Energi has recently started working with Hortonworks to help us collect, store and analyse the data we stream from over 3,000 electricity consuming assets and meters across our customers’ sites UK-wide, more efficiently and at a far greater scale than previously possible.

In addition it will provide a single view of all the information we rely on to deliver our service, pulling in weather forecasts and electricity market data to help us react swiftly to changing conditions on the grid and provide valuable customer insights. For example, maximising the revenue that can be generated from our customers’ assets, alerting them when their equipment is down, identifying operational efficiencies and driving energy savings.

We’ve started working with Hortonworks at a really exciting stage in our own development and that of the market. Businesses are fast waking up to the benefits of Demand Response and the opportunity it gives them to play an active role in building a smarter grid.

We see it as a permanent and game changing evolution in how energy markets work; increasing network efficiency, reducing the cost of wholesale energy, facilitating the introduction of clean energy sources and building a circular economy where productivity is enhanced and energy users are rewarded for taking positive action.

Fast forward to 2035; most of our energy comes from cheap, renewable energy sources, Demand Response acts as a distributed storage network, automatically adjusting consumption from millions of cars, heaters, pumps and fridges up and down the country in line with available supply, and suddenly the challenge of building a clean, secure and affordable energy economy doesn’t seem so insurmountable.

Learn More

You can learn more by reading our recent press release and by visiting the IoT and Energy microsites on the Hortonworks website.

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