North West water firm United Utilities is using artificial intelligence to deliver a flexible approach to energy management.

The technology, powered by leading energy tech company Open Energi, will manage electricity demand and generation across its sites to reduce costs, increase self-generated renewable power use, and provide vital flexibility to support a more sustainable energy future. The move will cut electricity costs at United Utilities’ sites by 10% a year, which will be used to reduce water bills for customers.

The water firm already generates 21% of its electricity consumption through its own renewable fleet – via solar PV, biogas and hydroelectric – and plans to install a further 30MW by 2020. To make the best use of this clean, low cost power, it needs to be flexible about when and how it uses electricity.

Open Energi’s platform, known as Dynamic Demand 2.0, continuously monitors and manages electricity demand and generation, learning what an optimal strategy looks like and adjusting it second-by-second according to many different control parameters and signals.

This fully automated technology invisibly shifts United Utilities’ demand so that it consumes more when it is generating high levels of electricity, much less during expensive peak periods, and also responds to fluctuations on the grid to help balance electricity supply and demand UK-wide.

Wastewater Treatment Works at Chorley and Bolton will be the first sites to go live with the technology. Over the next 12 months, pumps, motors and biogas CHP engines across 8 sites will be connected to Dynamic Demand 2.0, providing 8MW of flexibility to respond to changes in grid frequency, peak-time network costs, wholesale and imbalance prices and local constraints, whilst making the most efficient use of their energy.

Open Energi’s ability to coordinate assets in this way and deliver ‘total energy optimisation’ across United Utilities’ sites supports a wider move by the water firm to provide one central energy service.

Andy Pennick, Energy Manager at United Utilities, said “We are committed to providing safe, cost efficient and sustainable water and wastewater services to our customers. Behind-the-scenes energy is a pivotal part of our service. By bringing all our energy disciplines together, we can focus on future proofing our energy strategy and providing low carbon, secure energy at least cost.

Dynamic Demand 2.0 underpins this strategy, providing powerful insight into asset performance and an adaptable platform that helps United Utilities to respond quickly and efficiently to changing regulation – which can result in additional costs without careful management – and take advantage of new market opportunities, whilst also supporting United Utilities’ sustainability strategy.

Andy explained “As a responsible business we are always striving to reduce our environmental impact and provide a great service. Investing in innovative technology like this helps us tackle future challenges around climate change with no impact to the service we provide. It will also enable us to continue our drive to reduce costs which has seen customer bills decline in real terms since 2010.”

Open Energi’s Commercial Director, David Hill, commented “The UK’s energy system is undergoing a quiet revolution. Renewable uptake has surpassed all expectations and coal is disappearing from our grid, but we are now faced with the perverse situation where wind is likely to be turned off during summer months so that gas-fired power stations can be kept online to balance the system.

“Companies like United Utilities are demonstrating that there is an alternative approach. Adopting Dynamic Demand 2.0 is helping them provide vital demand flexibility and operate in a way that is good for the environment, whilst making considerable savings.  It shows how sustainably driven energy decisions can boost productivity.”