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By Hywel Lloyd, Government Engagement Manager

As the low carbon transition becomes the net zero transition the challenge facing the energy system will get more difficult as our collective progress in decarbonising our electricity supply needs to be replicated in the more complex worlds of heat and mobility.  Yet with all challenges comes opportunity.

Net zero challenge

The energy grids, both gas and electricity, have developed in a world where the nature and purpose of each has tended to be considered as distinct. Regulation and oversight have tended to work in parallel.

The drive to net zero will see a growing use of electric vehicles while decisions over the future of low carbon heat suggest a partial, place by place, electrification of heat. Both these developments will change the nature of the demand profile for electricity.

Limits to grid capability

Over the past ten to 20 years we have seen a growing, organic deployment of localised renewable capacity. As these technologies are inherently decentralised this has affected how existing grid capacity is used in many parts of the country.

In some places these pressures have given rise to parts of the grid being at the limits of their capability. These areas are usually described as constraint management zones (CMZ).

Constraint management zones

There are potentially hundreds of constraint management zones across the UK.

While the historic solution for a constraint management zones was to upgrade elements (the wires, the sub-stations) of the local grid, more recent innovation has prompted the rise of demand side responses, reductions and flexibility.

As a part of that, distribution network operators and others are looking at domestic flexibility in a more programmatic way, for example an event earlier this year at which Everoze convened stakeholders to consider domestic flexibility on behalf of Western Power Distribution (WPD).

Such approaches seek to manage energy demand within the grid’s existing capabilities.

The development of Active Buildings offers scope for further innovation, which could turn around the capabilities of a constraint management zones.

Intelligent energy use with active buildings

The key benefit of Active Buildings is their ability to integrate energy capture and local generation, control and management of energy, energy storages and uses, including electric vehicles.

Active Building technologies can help reduce and manage energy demand through:

  • Greater efficiency of use
  • Increased local energy capture
  • Stores that reduce excess local supply or offset excess local demand
  • Controls to digitally manage energy (electrical & thermal) exchanges in real time

All these Active technologies would be integrated to support local demand on the future electricity system in power for our homes, warmth, mobility.

While Active Buildings is an integrated approach to the energy needs and capabilities of an individual building, such an approach can also be used to understand the energy needs and capabilities of groups of buildings, even localities or whole areas.

Just as with heat networks, which seek to connect and match up heat demand and supply, so a locality based Active Buildings approach can offer a better energy systems response.

Collective deployment of active buildings

If a constraint management zones is a locality where the collective energy system has issues then a locality-based approach to Active Building deployment should be considered, as the Everoze/WPD event helped highlight.

For any constraint management zones it should be possible to map out predictable future demand against which to design and plan an Active approach. This could be entail deploying new Active Buildings or upgrading existing buildings to Active capabilities.

For example, a new or upgraded school, factory, health centre or housing development could be built with a larger solar array or thermal store greater than necessary for their own demand to support wider area energy use. An upgrade programme would take a holistic approach, to include smart meter deployment, electric vehicle charging points to integrated electric vehicles, an additional source of battery storage.

Taking an Active approach to a constrained locality would offer grid benefits, wider energy system benefits such as reduced peak demand and lower net demand. An Active approach would also offer an appropriate financial return from the energy system to the local Active Building owners for providing local flexibility services.

As part of our demonstrator programme at the Active Building Centre, we are particularly interested in organisations looking to develop a locality based Active approach or Area Based Demand Side Response (ABDSR). If interested please email me at [email protected].