SP Energy Networks has successfully led the UK’s first trial to shift electricity demand to maximise local network capabilities and allow customers to capitalise on the opportunities from a transition to a smarter grid.
Working with Octopus Energy, customers were able to respond and shift when they used electricity to time slots when the supply of renewable energy was at its highest and help balance the demand of the network in their local community.
The Flexibility Demand Shift Trial builds on SP Energy Networks’ role at the forefront of the flexibility market, which allows for more agile network management by encouraging customers to operate in ways that benefits the network. The increased uptake of low carbon technologies like electric vehicles and battery storage can result in network constraints during busy periods, as well as excess generation at other points. Flexibility provides a smarter way to help address these challenges.
This particular trial, which took place in Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire, represented flexibility in its simplest form, with the practical nature of the trial demonstrating fully what is possible with flexibility. The process involved SP Energy Networks notifying Octopus Energy during time periods where high generation output was forecasted, who then informed participating customers directly the day before those specific requirements were needed on the network.
The trial demonstrated how simple it was for customers to participate in flexibility markets, which are often seen as overly complex, and how responsive participants were, with 98% of the 2,500 trial participants finding the experience beneficial and easy to do.
Almost half (46%) of customers said they would consider managing their energy use five days per week and one in five (22%) would do it three days per week. Every customer said they would be prepared to take action to control their energy at least once per week.
Scott Mathieson, Network Planning and Regulation Director at SP Energy Networks said: “This is the first time that flexibility demand shift has been trialled at this scale anywhere in the UK and it’s great to see it’s been such a success. The benefit of managing flexibility in this way is that it allows maximum renewable energy generation to be absorbed locally and the network to be effectively managed at a local level, helping tailor the service to areas and driving communities forward towards net zero emissions targets through increased renewable generation.
“The trial gave us the opportunity to understand customer behaviour and how they responded to near-time signals and serves as an indicator of future potential as we transition to green technologies like heat pumps and EVs, which will increase domestic energy loads.
“Flexibility removes the need in some areas for costly and often-time consuming traditional network reinforcement and allows customers to capitalise on the opportunities arising from a transition to a smarter grid and low carbon future. Our thanks to everyone who took part for their input to helping shape our network management of the future.”
With energy generation managed at a local level in this way, the trial saw 20.2 MWh total demand shift with 1.68 MW average per demand shift event. The demand shift during these trial windows equates to roughly the output from an average commercial onshore wind farm.
Rebecca Dibb-Simkin, Chief Marketing and Product Officer at Octopus Energy Group, said: “We have this amazing power grid which spans across the entire country, connecting every household and every generator in the UK. By tweaking how we consume power, we can make the most of every green electron generated in the UK and bring down costs for all.
“This trial was just the first step proving that people are happy to make small adjustments to help the grid and save cash. With a much larger campaign we would be able to really move the needle towards the flexible energy system we need for a greener future.”
What happens next?
SP Energy Networks is leading the way towards a low carbon future and the flexibility trial was an example of its proactive work, collaboratively with industry peers, to deliver innovative energy solutions.
The network provider is one of the industry leaders in the flexibility market, having tendered extensively for flexibility services which has resulted in accepted bids to provide over 700MW – the equivalent of 100,000 electric vehicles charging on the network. It is also the first UK Distribution Network Operator to contract with a third party to provide a reactive power service at distribution level. The partnership with Conrad Energy helped utilise reactive power to solve network constraints in a trial last year, helping customers on the journey to net zero emissions targets.