Credit: Dreamstime
Credit: Dreamstime

Automated demand response is a huge untapped resource of energy across Europe that provides utility companies with a low-carbon method of stabilizing the grid and accommodating peaks in demand quickly and effectively without requiring high, unnecessary investment, argues Scott Petersen

All across Europe – indeed, all over the world – energy utility companies are seeking to overcome major challenges caused by changes to the way energy is produced, transmitted, distributed and consumed.

More frequent peak surges in demand cause grid constraints that need to be overcome. The growing number and amount of renewables in the supply mix create transmission imbalances that need to be managed. The gradual climb out of the global economic crisis means unnecessary investment in infrastructure must be avoided.

In Europe, recent events highlight the importance of reducing both dependence on external energy sources and exposure to the wholesale market.

On top of all this, overall demand continues to rise. Between 1990 and 2010, electricity use in the EU-27’s public, education, healthcare, services and commercial buildings rose by 93 per cent to 834 TWh, or 29.4 per cent of total consumption. In the eight years to 2007, consumption in the EU-27’s industrial facilities rose by 13 per cent to 1150 TWh, accounting for 40 per cent of the total figure.

But these are just the operational and economic issues. Much of the relevant EU legislation is driven by the need to reduce carbon emissions and to mitigate climate change.

So, how are Europe’s utilities rising to the challenges created by these factors? Currently, the answers are mixed.

The proliferation of renewables is putting traditional power networks under pressure. In Germany, for example, more than 60 GW of renewable capacity was online by the end of 2012. However, the difference in the grid’s stability between a calm, overcast day and a windy, sunny day can be massive. New strategies are being implemented to link wind turbines, biomass generators and solar panels with conventional power plants and new storage solutions to create a more stable grid. But the focus remains on generating and managing the power required, rather than on reducing demand.

To balance supply and demand, France has a generation-focused demand response programme, which uses one aggregator to provide a minimum of 10 MW of power as and when required. Effectively, this high requirement limits the programme’s capacity by restricting it to power stations and to the biggest energy-intensive manufacturing industries.

In the case of both Germany and France, neither country currently takes into account carbon offsets in their grid programmes. Both focus on securing energy supply from a limited number of generating assets, with their selection based on economic merit and speed of response.

In the UK, a lower minimum requirement of 3 MW energy generation or demand reduction and more generous payments from National Grid make the creation of virtual power plants – or VPPs – both feasible and attractive.

Power management companies like Stor Generation and others use automated demand response (ADR) technology to connect with a range of facilities and aggregate energy savings tied to temporary adjustments in heating and cooling equipment and other building systems.

Honeywell sets up Stor Generation’s demand response programmes on its Akuacom Demand Response Automation Server (DRAS), manages the internet portal for Stor Generation, reports performance and provides initial training and ongoing support for participating organizations.

ADR provides utilities with a low-carbon method of stabilizing the grid
ADR provides utilities with a low-carbon method of stabilizing the grid
Credit: Mott MacDonald

As Stor Generation signs up clients to the service, Honeywell implements site audits to design load shed strategies, provides testing and training, and connects each facility to the DRAS via an on-site gateway device. The gateway listens for signals indicating when energy use needs to be trimmed. When a demand response event is called, the gateway passes the information to the building’s automation system, which automatically implements the prescribed changes. The same technology can also combine and feed power from on-site generators into the grid. In both cases, participating organizations are compensated for their involvement by payments from the utility company.

The key to the success of the programme is to respond quickly to demands from the utility and to provide a measurable, verifiable account of the energy savings made or the power generation delivered.

Honeywell's Demand Response Automation Server (DRAS) can respond quickly to utility demands
Honeywell’s Demand Response Automation Server (DRAS) can respond quickly to utility demands
Credit: Honeywell

ADR technology meets these requirements by allowing aggregators and utilities to communicate with building systems when electricity is needed, and instigating pre-planned, fully automated changes to each building’s operation. This means flexibility and convenience for organizations and power providers alike.

It provides utilities with a carbon-friendly and cost-effective means of stabilizing the grid and meeting future peak demand without the need for major investment. It also provides participating organizations with near real-time energy use awareness and visualization, and gives them the ability to reduce their kilowatt-hours by offering site load flexibility.

Participants also benefit from reducing their carbon footprint and will ultimately play an important and integral part in the UK’s decarbonization strategy.

Clearly, there is significant potential for Europe’s building owners to participate in providing their flexible load to help manage the electrical transmission and distribution networks in a clean way during times of grid stress. The question is, what needs to happen for other countries in Europe to benefit from a similar strategy?

From the investment, infrastructure, operational and environmental perspectives, the arguments for adopting ADR are compelling. But it may take more time for some countries to align with the technology from a political, economic and environmental standpoint.

What will then be required is an open, competitive market that provides organizations with a straightforward method of entry without being locked into a particular platform provider or aggregator or risking an investment in assets that may become obsolete if the provider is changed.

That market already exists, thanks to the development of a de facto communication standard for sharing demand response information – the cloud-based Open Automated Demand Response (OpenADR) protocol, which is promoted by the OpenADR Alliance and its almost 100 members. And that market continues to expand, thanks to the growing range of ADR-compliant equipment being launched by a variety of manufacturers.

The launch of this equipment and its expanding market mean that aggregators will have ongoing freedom of choice when it comes to working with an ADR partner. Similarly, end users will have freedom of choice when selecting an aggregator.

In summary, ADR is a huge untapped resource of energy across Europe that provides utility companies with a low-carbon method of stabilizing the grid and accommodating peaks in demand quickly and effectively without requiring high, unnecessary investment.

The same, proven open standard system provides participating organizations with new revenue streams and the ability to analyze and to enhance control of their energy usage.

The challenges facing Europe’s energy infrastructure are significant, but – thanks to OpenADR – so are the opportunities to meet and overcome them.

Scott Petersen is Honeywell’s Business Development Director, Smart Grid Solutions, Europe and North Africa

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