As a company with almost 7,000 employees serving over 15,000 customers we are always looking for solutions that can help us operate more effectively and sustainably.
We employ a whole life approach to sustainability, which means that we are not just considering the impact on our extractive or production processes, we’re also concerned about how they perform in life and how they perform when they come to the end of their life as well, in terms of recycling or re-use.
We have identified four priority areas to guide our strategy; people, planet, performance and solutions. Energy use, carbon emissions and climate change fit firmly in the planet category, so that’s where demand response comes in, helping us be smarter about how and when we use energy and support our carbon reduction targets.
Intelligent demand response
Demand response itself is not a new concept. What I think is new is the number of schemes that are available for businesses to participate in and the wider understanding of how this can support our transition to a more sustainable energy future.
We first heard about Open Energi’s approach – which involves making very quick but short changes in consumption – a couple of years ago and we soon realised that this could unlock a lot of new opportunities for us to participate in demand response using smaller pieces of kit. Individually they don’t have much impact, but with today’s technology we can aggregate these across multiple sites, and suddenly it becomes something very meaningful which provides a big opportunity for us, National Grid and the system.
The service Open Energi provides via its Dynamic Demand platform is known as dynamic frequency response. The service needs you to respond within two seconds for up to 30 minutes, but typically the duration is only 4-5 minutes at a time. It’s the most valuable demand response scheme you can participate in but it’s effectively invisible from an operational perspective and once installed, it runs itself.
It wasn’t until we’d undertaken a trial on three of our sites in the South East and seen the technology in action that we were convinced, and that’s the approach I’d recommend to anyone thinking of installing this type of intelligent demand response. We ran the trial for a few months and this meant we could see that it worked, we could see the benefits it would bring, but most importantly for us, we knew it could be installed and operated safely without any impact on our sites.
The results of the trial enabled my team to go to the business and get buy-in from all of our internal stakeholders, from the operations director through to the teams on site operating our plant. After agreeing on the strategy, the actual installation was quite straightforward.
Tarmac approached it like any other engineering project, and had a project manager from Open Energi coordinating directly with someone on our side to manage the roll out. We appointed regional champions who stayed actively involved in the project, and provided all of our site staff with detailed comms packs.
We started at the beginning of 2015 and by April 2016 Dynamic Demand had been installed on over 200 bitumen tanks at 70 asphalt plans across the UK. What this means is the heating elements in each of those tanks, which keep the bitumen warm, can switch on or off in seconds to help National Grid balance electricity supply and demand. Collectively our tanks are providing the grid with capacity that we’re able to shift in real-time, so they’re able to use more when there is a surplus – for example when it’s particularly windy – and less when there’s a shortfall. It means we’re helping to build a smarter, more responsive energy system which is paving the way for more renewable power and reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuelled power stations.
Greater visibility and control
Another benefit we have seen from the technology is greater visibility and control of our tanks. We’re now able to see remotely if a tank is on when it shouldn’t be or if there’s a maintenance issue. For example, one heating element may be broken causing us to super heat others. Responding to these kind of issues promptly can help us operate more efficiently and the learnings we are gathering from across all of our sites is helping us to identify and share best practice. Lastly, but most significantly, it has had no impact on site operations or safety and this is the ultimate measure of success for us – that we don’t even know it is happening.
Based on the success of this first phase of work with Open Energi, we’re now working together to identify other equipment such as pumps and HVAC controls that will also be suitable. We’re also keen to share what we have learned and encourage more businesses to follow suit.
Large businesses have an important role to play helping the UK meet its carbon commitments, and it’s very empowering to think that by working together, businesses can help drive a positive transformation in how the UK’s energy system operates, for the benefit of everyone.