The University of Oxford is to test the capabilities of a Virtual Private Wire Network (VPWN) to manage the energy use of 400 buildings currently linked together on a micro-grid via a private wire network.
The feasibility study, which has been awarded funding by Innovate UK, will assess the economic, social and environmental value of creating the VPWN to centrally manage the energy use of the university’s estate, which is spread across Oxford.
The current system sees each building controlling its own energy usage, which is said to lead to inefficiencies and reduces the ability to implement estate-wide carbon reduction measures.
A VPWN is expected to help connect multi-site assets, such as battery storage and on-site generation capabilities, with demand behind a single metering point. It would also mean renewable technology and storage could be more easily integrated across an estate in the future.
This will be made possible by the MindSphere Internet of Things operating software from Siemens, a partner on the project, which will analyse each connected building’s energy use and be able to manage it while also implement efficiency measures to reduce carbon emissions.
Parth Mehta, campus lead at Siemens Distributed Energy Systems, said: “The development of decentralised energy provides huge opportunities for universities and industrial facilities to become self-sufficient, however, large organisations cannot easily coordinate different types of energy storage and generation across multiple sites.
“This innovative study is just the start and will prove that a virtual private wire network has the dual benefits of reducing the cost of balancing supply and demand with reduction in carbon emissions and service reliability.”
Consuming around £1 million of energy each month, and with the fourth highest emissions of all UK universities, Oxford hopes to address all these issues with the new system.
Professor McCulloch of the Department of Engineering Sciences at University of Oxford, added: “Energy systems are becoming smarter and more local. This exciting project demonstrates the role buildings can play in emerging energy systems.
“The impact will have international importance as we move to decarbonise electricity heating and cooling systems in buildings, while delivering flexibility services to the local and national grid infrastructure.”
Universities, and more specifically the private networks that many can have access to, are offering an innovative proving ground for new approaches such as the VPWN. In January, Keele University announced that it was also working with Siemens to deliver the Smart Energy Network Demonstrator (SEND).
This has set out to turn the university’s private utilities network into a national test bed for new smart energy technologies and services in partnership with business and industry.
Speaking this week about the new project with Oxford, Joy Aloor head of digital grid for Siemens Energy Management, said: “We are in the midst of an energy transformation driven by decarbonisation, electrification, decentralisation and digitalisation.
“The scientific community and industries have a big role to play to redefine regulatory paradigm, embrace new business models and deploy enabling infrastructure to achieve the objectives of this energy transformation.”