Connect with us


Open Energi: creating a ‘virtual power station’



Creating an energy system that is secure, affordable and clean across the UK requires us to utilise cutting edge technology and come up with innovative solutions. Open Energi is one of the firms working to solve the energy crisis through the creation of a “virtual power station”.

David Hill, Open Energi’s Business Development Director, explains, “We are working with large energy users to help build a new energy economy, which is clean, secure and affordable. We harness small amounts of flexible energy demands from their equipment, such as HVAC, chillers, pumps and ovens, and aggregate this to create a virtual power station.”

The National Grid needs to balance electricity supply and demand second by second, failing to meet demand could lead to blackouts while exceeding it could lead to equipment failure and technical problems. This means continuously monitoring demand and altering supply to meet peaks and troughs.

Traditionally the solution to this has been to rely on supply-side measures, such as ramping power station output up and down as demand changes. Open Energi describes this method as “costly, inefficient and polluting” because peaks only happen for short periods of the day, resulting in up to 40% of the UK’s energy infrastructure being underutilised.

As the UK continues to move towards climate change targets and decarbonise the energy sector National Grid’s flexible supply will diminish because renewables will play a greater role.

Hill states, “National Grid cannot press a button to boost wind output or make the sun shine more brightly just because we’ve turned our kettles on as EastEnders finishes. Building a more flexible demand-side is vital to maximise renewable integration.”

Open Energi’s Dynamic Demand provides an innovative solution to this problem. Dynamic Demand works by turning equipment into ‘smart devices’ that can automatically adjust their electricity consumption in line with available supply .

“So as we all turn our kettles on at the end of our favourite TV show instead of National Grid ramping up a power station to meet the surge in demand, equipment across the UK can temporarily power down, freeing up supply so we can all have a cuppa,” Hill continued.

“Because these adjustments only occur for a few minutes at a time, performance is never impacted; the service is completely invisible.”

Open Energi estimates that around 10% of all demand can be “quickly and predictably shifted” without impacting businesses. The solution also reduces the need for new capacity to be built, meaning it is cheaper and quicker than other options. For example, a peaking plant would cost between £0.7-£5 million per megawatt while a battery system would cost £0.5-£1.8 million per megawatt. In contrast, Dynamic Demand can provide a solution for only £0.2 million per megawatt.

The cutting-edge solution has led to Open Energi being among a handful of high tech companies from around the world participating in the Cognicity Challenge. The challenge is a Smart Cities initiative, run by the Canary Wharf Group, to identify and accelerate the development “of smart city technology products and services”.

In July this year, the company will also attend the Business Green Leaders Awards after being shortlisted in the Small Business of the Year category. The awards aim to celebrate pioneers in the green economy that are driving sustainable business models and technologies.

Diverting spending from power stations to UK businesses

Open Energi’s Dynamic Demand doesn’t just benefit the power sector; it also offers an opportunity for businesses to generate revenue.

National Grid currently spends around £1 billion a year on grid balancing and Open Energi is helping divert this spending away from power stations and towards the UK’s businesses. Open Energi’s business model encourages companies and organisations to become active participants in energy markets rather than simply consumers. Empowering consumers to increase their involvement in the energy market is a step towards creating a fairer and more transparent system.

Participating businesses can generate up to 5-10% of their annual energy bill without impacting performance, while helping to decarbonise the grid and build a more efficient and secure energy system.

Businesses are paid for their availability 365 days a year and as a result earn revenue regardless of how often their assets are needed by National Grid.

Over the last twelve months Open Energi has doubled its customer base, proving that the benefits are high while impact remains invisible. Among the businesses embracing and profiting from the demand-side solution are Sainsbury’s, United Utilities, Aggregate Industries and the University of East Anglia.

In addition to generating extra revenue, Dynamic Demand can also aid in energy savings. While the service is energy neutral all assets are monitored and the information is passed on to businesses. The increased data and visibility has been utilised by some customers to generate energy savings while other have used the revenues to fund other sustainability initiatives.

Looking to the future and Open Energi’s long-term aims, Hill said, “Our vision is to build a new carbon economy that is clean, affordable and secure. This means working globally, with cities, businesses and in our homes to offer demand response solutions that can create a smarter electricity system, which rewards sustainable actions without impacting our lives or work.”

Photo: David Hill

Further reading:

Plummeting renewable costs present ‘historic opportunity’ to build clean energy systems

UBS: solar set to transform energy system within 20 years

Wave energy has potential to be cheaper than wind

Survey: global electricity system could be 70% renewable by 2050

Scotland’s electricity system could be almost 100% renewable by 2030


5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

Continue Reading


Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

Continue Reading