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en_tech_talks session 03: the readout

Centre for Net Zero   •   3 August 2022

How can we leverage emerging datasets and cutting-edge technology, such as AI optimisation and prediction software, to achieve energy flexibility at scale? Why is it important, and what do the benefits look like for people, businesses and communities? 

For the third edition of our event series, en_tech_talks, we brought together some of the brightest and most progressive players in energy and tech to discuss the role of energy flexibility within the future energy system. 

Energy system flexibility is the ability to adjust supply and demand to achieve energy balance. It is increasingly important as a result of the growth in renewables, the electrification of heating and transport and changing consumer behaviours. Demand is forecast to increase significantly, and we expect to see lower amounts of spare capacity on the network at peak times.

Historically, we’ve relied on the supply side for flexibility, turning up gas production and electricity generation to meet changing needs. As we begin to power ourselves with more renewable energy sources, demand side flexibility will be critical to matching supply and demand in the shortest timescales.

We invited Natasha Morgan, Senior Manager at Moixa, Masaõ Ashtine, Data Lead at Project LEO and Iain Walker, Director at Ohme, to join us at Octopus Energy HQ and tell us more about the ways their respective organisations are disrupting the way we use energy and driving towards a future with flexibility at its heart. You can find all the sets of speaker slides here

Natasha Morgan – Moixa

Natasha kickstarted the evening by talking about the virtual power plant (VPP) market. VPPs are a critical flexibility source, whereby you aggregate distributed energy resources (DERs), such as smart batteries and electric vehicles, and operate them at a scale that grid operators can capitalise on. As electricity demand, the share of intermittent renewables, price volatility, and number of controllable distributed energy resources (DERs) all increase, the VPP market continues to grow in size. It currently has a compound annual growth rate of 20-35% and a 2025 market size valuation of $1.5 billion. 

In order to successfully leverage VPPs and reach our decarbonisation goals at pace, we need to leverage AI and sophisticated software. Without new tech, we can’t achieve quick decision-making on a home-by-home basis. We are confronted by an increasingly complex market and millions of distributed assets, which will need to be coordinated in real time to create value for customers, asset owners, and the grid alike. Enter Moixa and their product GridShare: an AI infrastructure layer for the future smart grid.

 

 

As Natashed explained, the GridShare software delivers grid services via residential assets. Through one platform, the software provides value to multiple actors both ‘behind the meter’ (BTM) and ‘front of meter’ (see the left and right hand side of the above graphic). Unlike other flex players, Moixa takes a bottom-up approach, aggregating up flexibility via the home. Its platform receives a host of data, including information from energy storage assets and historical consumption patterns, allowing it to predict what might happen in the next 24-48 hours and what the optimal household behaviour is to meet ‘local’ or BTM requirements, such as minimising cost or carbon footprint. Moixa is already providing grid services through residential participation in Europe and is working with organisations in Japan and the US to mature the market and accelerate the global transition to a lower carbon future. 

Masaõ Ashtine – Project LEO

Next up, Masaõ took to the stage. He talked the audience through Project LEO: one of the UK’s most ambitious, wide-ranging and innovative energy trials, seeking to accelerate our transition to a zero-carbon energy system. 

Masaõ and his team are interested in flexibility at a local level and how it can be leveraged by Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) as they transition to Distribution Service Operators (DSOs). He explained the financial, social, environmental and technical benefits of achieving flexibility at a local level for a multitude of actors, ranging from savings on energy bills to a reduction in local emissions and improved grid resilience. 

Project LEO achieves this by delivering ‘service and value stacking’, rolling out low carbon technologies such as solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles that can be used to balance supply and demand. Whilst this might sound relatively straightforward, as Masaõ points out, real-world trials are hard and messy. In the chosen testbed of Oxfordshire, you might assume that you can deploy batteries in people’s houses – yet many of its historic buildings are protected by stringent Grade II listed building regulations, prohibiting their installation. Similarly, you might assume that a school with solar panels can save money by installing a battery that provides flexibility to the network, but this is often difficult to achieve and complicated by metering systems. 

Project LEO’s market trials are designed to extensively explore such challenges, addressing the commercial, technical, and contractual elements of a viable flex marketplace. The team is seeking to answer some of the tricky questions regarding these marketplaces, such as how you establish baselining for battery assets in flexibility services, what happens when flexibility providers are not called on for a scheduled flexibility service, and how bids could maximise value. 

In order to help local stakeholders answer these questions and create a viable marketplace, Project LEO has built a series of resources. This includes its Bid Analysis Tool, which lets market participants explore different bidding strategies by weighing up the availability of the flexibility asset against the utilisation of that asset. Other resources include a data cleaning tool, a data health scan and a land use mapping tool. Masaõ finished his talk by highlighting that flexibility at local levels will only be able to support national targets through data provenance and validation; we need good tools to organise and sort different data feeds to unlock its value in local marketplaces. 

Iain Walker – Ohme

Finally, we were joined by Iain from Ohme to explain the role of smart electric vehicle (EV) charging in delivering a flexible energy system. He started by highlighting the significant financial opportunity of domestic flexibility: £10 billion of savings per year by 2050. He also pointed to the savings that can be made at a household level, estimated to reach £137 per household by 2030. According to National Grid ESO’s Future Energy Scenario 2022, significant levels of demand side flexibility are required to operate the electricity system without unabated natural gas after 2035 – but unless we engage with consumers and encourage them to participate in flexibility services, we won’t hit our net zero targets. 

What is the role of EVs and smart charging in unlocking flexibility? For a typical household, having an EV will double their energy consumption. Yet by limiting charging during peak periods, increasing charging at times of peak solar/wind generation, turning off charging at times of grid failure and turning up charging when generation is being curtailed, smart charging can help flatten demand ‘peaks’ and ‘troughs’. Ohme provides a smart charging platform that enables consumers and energy suppliers to benefit from these interventions. 

Their platform offers a wealth of insights into consumer charging behaviours, which is why they’re part of Crowdflex, the UK’s biggest home energy flexibility trial. Centre for Net Zero is working alongside Ohme and other partners on the next phase of this project

As the market evolves and more people adopt EVs, it’s critical that we keep pace with changing EV owner behaviours if we’re to unlock flexibility. To date, various qualitative segmentation models have been developed for the EV market. Using the data attributes that Ohme have access to (such as state of charge and miles driven), they are building their own segmentation models for flexibility, identifying the likelihood of customers participating and the potential this offers the flexibility market. The below graphic provides more detail. 

 

 

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