With the National Grid generating margin of just 5.1% during winter 2015/16 and an increasingly fragmented production model, innovative solutions that can address both short and long term national and local energy requirements are long overdue.
The introduction of Demand Side Response (DSR) tariffs was designed to incentivise businesses to lower electricity use during periods of peak demand. However, while some businesses have been able to take advantage of DSR, there are far more organisations where the business risk simply does not justify the return that could be generated in reduced energy tariffs. For example, while up to 14% of UK electricity is consumed by cooling alone, no retailer will embrace DSR by turning off refrigeration without full confidence that it can do so without compromising either food safety or quality.
There is no doubt that the DSR theory is compelling by enabling a reduction in network constraints, while supporting broader plans to integrate large-scale renewable energy loads with inconsistent generation output. However, the sporadic uptake underlines the need to shift the focus away from energy-first towards a business-first approach; and one that supports energy shifting as much as energy reduction.
Enabling food retailers to actually improve food safety and food quality by adopting more sophisticated cooling management is attractive in an industry that experiences upwards of 30 per cent wastage annually. The fact that a more sophisticated approach to managing cooling in real-time can also enable retailers to take advantage of DSR and help in the management of national power resources is an added, albeit significant, benefit.
Today, the constant collection of billions of dynamic data points from thousands of devices is being combined with edge-based processing and analytics to embrace a far more sophisticated model for food cooling. Rather than following the traditional model of chilling all food to the temperature required by the most sensitive product – i.e. meat, with the ability to manage cooling in real-time, retailers can now embrace effective food specific cooling models. As a result, the expense of over cooling is massively reduced and the risk of compromise to food quality caused by excessive chilling, especially to dairy, is removed.
What is really exciting to those looking to build flexibility into the UK’s power resources, is the chance to extend this model to switch refrigeration on and off in response to the demands of power systems such as the National Grid, not just nationally but locally, to support energy shifting requirements. With the thermal inertia of refrigerated products providing an operational buffer that can be used to reduce demand at peak times and resume cooling when demand is low, there are huge opportunities to reduce – or increase – consumption in response to the demands of the Grid.
By changing the profile of energy consumption in any given physical location or asset to respond to the overall capacity within the Grid, while still ensuring devices are operating efficiently, organisations have the chance to reduce consumption and negotiate lower costs with power suppliers. Indeed, the whole concept of energy shifting will demand new contractual arrangements that reflect local, as well as national, demands.