Hunting high and low – the search for flexible demand

Mark Boyce, Commissioning Engineer at Open Energi, talks about the challenges – and rewards – of unlocking flexible demand from some unlikely places.

Our Dynamic Demand technology works by unlocking small amounts of flexible demand that exist in everyday equipment and processes. The amount of flexible demand from any one piece of equipment may be insignificant, but aggregated from thousands of loads UK-wide it becomes extremely powerful, able to intelligently shift MWs of consumption in a matter of seconds.

It’s an Internet of Things approach to energy – powered by data and algorithms instead of coal or gas – which provides the flexible capacity we need to support greater use of renewables without laying a single brick.

With over 40 customers from an ever expanding range of sectors, we’re integrating Dynamic Demand with all kinds of equipment – none of which were designed to do what we are asking them to do – and all of which have an important job to do.

Delivering our service without impacting the performance of the equipment we’re integrating with, whether it’s an air handling unit helping to maintain temperature in a student library, a supermarket fridge keeping dairy products cool, or a bitumen tank storing liquid bitumen at 150 degrees Celsius, is at the core of everything we do.

As an engineer, it’s a fascinating challenge, and the only way for us to overcome it is to understand in detail how a business is using its equipment and the processes it is supporting. This means working closely with our customers and asking lots of questions about how their equipment works, when it is used, what happens if we change its consumption, how quickly it responds, how soon these changes impact its function, and so on.

Every site is different.  Even when we’re doing large scale roll-outs, for example working with Tarmac to equip over 200 bitumen tanks at 70 asphalt plants UK-wide with Dynamic Demand, we find identical tanks will behave differently. The control panel might look the same, but especially with older tanks, wiring may have been updated and modified over time, and we have to work carefully to integrate safely, without affecting what is there.

My role as a commissioning engineer is to work with our customers and installation partners to get sites “live”, which involves setting up 3G communications on site, commissioning our Tridium Jace, ensuring frequency and power meters are working correctly, confirming the safe integration between our control panel and site equipment, and completing frequency injection testing to ensure equipment provides the correct kW response within the prescribed time-frame. The last steps are to train the team on site, complete a final site inspection and get sign off from the business.

We’re usually installing and commissioning on working sites so we have to fit all of this in without disrupting business-as-usual activity. For example, at an asphalt plant there will be regular deliveries of bitumen, lorries collecting asphalt, and diggers moving materials around.  In addition there are stringent health and safety regulations in place, so we need to adopt a very flexible approach and work closely with the team on site.

Site understanding of what we do varies, so it’s very important we build a rapport with site managers and not only demonstrate that their site won’t be affected (and that they will remain in control of their equipment) but also explain the benefits to the site itself.

Whilst the main reasons for installing Dynamic Demand are usually the revenue and sustainability benefits, at a site level we provide detailed visibility of equipment performance, which can help businesses to identify operational efficiencies and reduce costs.  For example, our customer portal enables customers to manage and monitor their equipment in real-time, providing sub-second metering data on every asset which can help site managers to identify maintenance issues, track and compare equipment performance and improve operational usage.

Most businesses are under pressure to identify energy efficiencies and cost reductions, and in multi-site organisations they are often bench-marked against one another to identify and share best practice, so the granular data we provide can prove extremely powerful and be a great way of engaging people with what we’re doing.

It’s very satisfying leaving a site and knowing we’re helping businesses to adopt a smarter approach to energy management, and that each and every piece of equipment we’ve connected to has become part of something much bigger; an intelligent, responsive energy system which is cleaner, cheaper and more secure. But I think the smartest thing of all – which may sounds odd coming from an engineer – is we’re doing all of this without building a single thing.

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