Smart electricity – asking when we need it instead of just how much
We could all benefit from lower energy bills – a topic that regularly makes the headlines here in the UK. Yet, despite us being ever more aware of how lax electricity usage can lead to higher bills, I have no doubt that we’ve all been guilty of over-charging our devices or leaving our TVs on standby overnight. As a nation that wastes £170 million each year simply by leaving lights on in empty rooms, we’re wasting generated electricity as well as our hard-earned cash. With us all being capable of changing our behaviour, perhaps the issue stems from the way we use electricity, simply flicking a switch when we need it and paying for it in our monthly bill.
We’ve already changed the way we generate electricity in the UK, replacing fossil fuels with renewables which now makes up over 30% of our energy mix. Whilst this is of course environmentally beneficial, the downside is that with renewables heavily reliant on the weather, it can be extremely difficult to juggle supply with demand. Whilst there are times when we need to limit the power generated from renewables when there is too much sun or wind, there are also times when we rely on high carbon fossil fuel generators when there isn’t enough. With weather being so changeable, these actions can take place on the same day, wasting our valuable renewable and fossil fuel resources as a result.
Of course, our need for electricity fluctuates throughout the day, typically lower during work and sleeping hours, rising again during the hours of prime-time TV. But what happens when there is a major hike in demand? With adverse weather conditions becoming more commonplace in the UK, we’re all the more likely to turn on appliances simultaneously, to cool or warm our offices and homes. And whilst this doesn’t happen often, it happens all the same – and there must be enough power delivered to all our homes to match that peak demand. To account for this, the energy system and all its components are specifically designed to meet forecasted maximum demand even though it happens just once or twice a year! This adds to the cost of living whether it’s through costs absorbed in the price of a new apartment or incorporated into the grid fees on our electricity bills.
This is where Demand Side Response (DSR) comes in, thinking about the way we use electricity rather than how much we need. Using electricity more intelligently, DSR allows us to make better use of our existing resources to better balance the system by reducing the amount of electricity we have to produce during periods of high demand. This idea got me thinking about my own behaviour as a consumer. As an analogy, I wondered whether I would be more inclined to drive to the supermarket earlier if it were to cost more to drive during rush hour. Similarly, would I postpone a load of washing if I could pay less for my electricity a little later in the day? The likelihood is that most people would tailor their behaviour, incentivised by the reduction in price. Not only would this bring down the cost for electricity, but we could reduce the cost towards an electricity network designed to meet forecasted maximum demand.
Hot water storage cylinders offer a huge DSR opportunity in the UK, with an estimated 27GW already installed in homes across the country. The Ubiquitous Storage Empowering Response (USER) Project looks to deliver real-world validation and data-driven recommendations to support BEIS’ future DSR objectives by connecting hot water storage with the grid. Ecuity are delighted to be part of the consortium for the project and we look forward to seeing the results.
Find out more about the USER project.
For more information, please contact the author: Christina Thompson-Yates.