Data-driven thinking in demand response

Published by Gautham Krishnadas 26 / 04 / 18

The legacy grids are being renovated to smart grids using various flavours of sensing, communication, control and internet technologies. Demand response (DR) is one of the most successfully implemented mechanisms on the smart grid platform as it exists today. This has enabled the active participation of consumers in providing flexibility through grid balancing services (once the preserve of centralised generators) – thereby reducing costs and carbon.

A major share of demand side flexibility is offered by large industrial and commercial building consumers using their energy assets such as curtailable loads, standby generators and storage systems. The availability of these energy assets for DR is dependent on the building’s energy consumption which in turn is dictated by the building’s operational schedules, occupant behaviour and ambient weather, among other factors.

Let us explore a few examples to understand this:

  • The share of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) load in a typical office building varies with the time of day and is generally higher during the working hours. As a result, higher HVAC load curtailment is available during these hours. However, what would be the consequence of switching off that electric space heating system for hours on end on a cold winter day in a heroic attempt to save the grid? Freezing and disgruntled occupants of course! Hence it is important to account for factors that influence the building’s energy consumption, in order to estimate the availability of curtailable loads.
  • Some buildings may deliver DR by aligning load test runs of a standby generator to the market’s need for electricity. Where there is no export licence, the curtailment capacity provided by the generator to the grid depends on the building load backed up at that time. Being able to predict the building load for different time periods helps commit the DR capacity from standby generators more accurately.
  • Another area to consider is battery storage (technology that some say has the potential to save the planet). Imagine a manufacturing plant with a large-volume behind-the-meter battery delivering the evening peak management (red zone or triad) DR to the grid. Prior to delivery, ample energy is required in the battery to back up the predicted building load for that period.  If DR events start to draw that reserve down towards unacceptable levels, consumption must be increased for a time to recover the charge, affecting net building load.

These examples highlight the importance of building load prediction in delivering DR from different energy assets. For a building manager, commitment of DR availability with good accuracy results in higher incentives and lower penalties. For the system operator, the improved accuracy in DR availability from the consumer-side helps in better system planning. This being the kind of situation that Flexitricity as an aggregator strives to create, we asked ourselves – how do we achieve this?  

Theory-based physical models developed using tools such as EnergyPlus help predict building energy consumption with a high level of accuracy. However, they demand detailed information on the building geometry and thermal parameters that are often inaccessible and can change from time to time (the thermal inertia of a supermarket changes with stock type and volume, for example). Considering the large number of sites involved in DR, such a theory-based approach towards building load modelling is cumbersome and impractical. That’s why data-driven alternative approach is preferable in many cases.

Smart grids provide the opportunity to access ‘big data’ from the electricity system in near real-time. These include consumption data from smart meters, weather data and process measurements. Progress in the field of machine learning, availability of off-the-shelf tools and advancement in computational capabilities help us make use of this data.

Data-driven models are tuned by the data themselves, enabling custom model development for the individual sites and energy assets located there. Once deployed, any internal changes to the building (for example addition of a new load, refurbishment, etc.) will be reflected in the incoming smart meter data, to which the data-driven model will adapt without any human intervention – this is the beauty of artificial intelligence (AI). Another enticing aspect is that the modelling methodologies are replicable on large number of buildings without incurring additional costs. 

Data-driven models could be deployed in different DR operational contexts. For example, a week-ahead prediction model developed for an office building may be deployed for frequency response programmes which mandate week-ahead capacity commitments. Data-driven models may also be used for baselining purposes to evaluate the actual delivered response against what was committed. Other applications include peak demand and price prediction. Setting up a pipeline of data collection-processing and model development-deployment could motivate data-informed decision making in many other DR contexts. Having foreseen this, Flexitricity is already developing intelligent machines that work hand-in-hand with our operational team in order to maximise profits for our Energy Partners and benefit the grid.    

Going beyond DR, data-driven thinking is essential in the wider context of electricity system operation. Some of the inspiring AI applications in this sector are: reduction in energy consumption, smart electricity theft detectionimproved efficiency of renewablesenhanced distribution network operations and  faster energy infrastructure maintenance.

Legacy grids are passé. A large part of the future is bundled up in the huge amount of data which smart grids are generating right now.   

Gautham Krishnadas

An R&D collaboration has been established to help power the electric vehicle revolution.

Electric Vehicle costs are starting to fall and there is expected to be 9 million electric vehicles on UK roads by 2030.

With this increased demand, it’s vital that the UK invests intelligently in developing the grid to ensure there is capacity for drivers to charge their electric vehicles.

A consortium of energy experts has now secured multi-million pound funding for a project to demonstrate a solar-powered car park supported by battery storage where motorists can charge their cars.

The Smart Hubs Demonstrator R&D project will also utilise revolutionary Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology to enable electric cars and other vehicles to deliver electricity back to the smart grid, to power homes and businesses.

The managed integration of solar PV, electric vehicle charging and vehicle to grid systems at car parks and transport hubs is relatively new to the UK and is expected to accelerate the UK in meeting its green transport ambitions.

Smart Hubs, with the inclusion of energy storage systems, increases the ability to charge large amounts of electric vehicles without placing further pressure on an already constrained grid. It will also bring sustainable revenue streams for car park owners including airports, train operators, local authorities, hospitals and retail centres.

The Smart Hubs Demonstrator project is also good news for car manufacturers as the ability to recharge quickly using a grid-friendly infrastructure will bring further consumer confidence and momentum to the electric vehicle market.

The project partners include demand response specialist Flexitricity, as well as Flexisolar, Turbo Power Systems and Smart Power Systems.

The demonstrator project will target early adopters of V2G, mostly in the commercial area, comprising of six sites and 150 V2G enabled electric vehicles.

The research will seek to identify the accessible service revenues for V2G systems in real life applications, how static and dynamic storage can be integrated in a single site to optimise service revenues, and the optimal power rating when considering lifetime system cost versus lifetime service revenues.

Dr Alastair Martin, chief strategy officer at Flexitricity, revealed that the consortium is now looking for partner sites to take part in the trials later this year.

He said: “Through the Industrial Strategy, the UK Government is committed to becoming a world leader in shaping the future of mobility and in the design and development of the clean technologies of the future.

“Electric cars and buses are going to be the principal method of transport in just a few years; however, we know that the current grid system will only be able to cope if smart charging and grid management are adopted across the network.

“We now need to invest in smart technologies and change the way we operate power grids if we want to make the growth of electric vehicles a positive story for the UK.

“As the UK’s leader in demand response, I believe that that smart vehicle charging will be the difference between the success and failure in reaching our electric vehicle ambitions.

“Having the ability to recharge in a short time using a grid friendly infrastructure will have a huge impact on the electric vehicles market - it really is a question about how quickly we can deliver this capability.

“From this perspective we are extremely excited to be involved in the Smart Hubs II project with our partners to develop a sustainable and scalable way of powering the electric vehicle revolution.

“We are now looking forward to identifying partner sites and embarking on the trials later this year, as we strive to deliver a solution that will drive the growth of the electric vehicle market and bring transformational benefits to motorists, car park operators and energy re-sellers.”


For more information please contact:

Neil McDonald: / 07428 398 402 / 0141 471 8399

Ross Henderson: / 07954 995 104 / 0141 471 8399

Notes to Editors:

About Flexitricity

Flexitricity created and now operates the first, largest and most advanced demand-response portfolio in GB and has unsurpassed knowledge of the market and its requirements.

Headquartered in Edinburgh, Flexitricity partners with businesses throughout Great Britain to provide reserve electricity to National Grid.  The word “Flexitricity” means “Flexible Electricity”. The company looks for flexibility in electricity consumption and generation, creating revenue for energy users and generators as well as reducing national CO2 emissions and helping to secure energy supplies.

Their team is fully engaged at industry and regulatory level and has a track record that demonstrates innovation and delivery success.

Flexitricity is part of the Alpiq Group, a leading Swiss electricity and energy service provider with a strong presence across Europe.

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