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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


Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis




Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens |

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long your retirement savings will last?

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?



Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret |

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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