Shiny! Let’s investigate options before we all dash to hardware again

Interesting notes from the Energyst’s survey on demand side response this week.

Fully 85% of organisations polled had heard of Enhanced Frequency Reserve – a rather esoteric (to non energy geeks) offer from National Grid that is provided (at the moment) by just eight battery units. A host of those organisations were looking at installing batteries on site.

This ‘oh shiny!’ approach to development can do great things (and batteries are great in many applications). Who remembers the immediate spread of satellite dishes? And Elon Musk’s Tesla converted a great many people to the idea of electric vehicles. But there are two issues.

First, don’t be dazzled by the hardware.

Other figures in the report show that many of those same organisations had yet to take the simplest and probably lowest-cost step to reduce their energy bills – move demand out of distribution networks’ ‘red band’ charging period, when the cost of using the networks rises dramatically. That’s generally the 4-7pm period and at its most basic, it might involve companies cycling heat or refrigeration to different times, considering changes in shift patterns. This doesn’t require companies to buy things, but to fully understand their energy use and have conversations with staff and users about making behavioural changes.

That’s not so easy as buying a piece of technology, but it is cheaper. And companies may be able to participate in some of the revenue lines they want to get from a battery – without the cost of buying a battery – if they look at load management first. As Michael Phelan noted in New Power last month, there is still a tendency for the industry to go to generation before thinking about managing load.

Second, think about the long term. As an infrequent driver I view the transport sector differently. It seems that the need to move people and goods from one place to another coincided with the availability of shiny new cars, which offered many ways to get ‘one up’ on your friends and neighbours. Now we still have to transport the people and goods, but we also have to transport millions of large metal boxes, which have to be attended all the time they are moving, filled with explosive fuel regularly and parked close to the planned occupant (obstructing expensive space), sometimes for long periods. And they need roads to run on.

It’s only now with the advent of car sharing that this state of affairs has begun to change, and digitalisation is   just chipping at the edges.

There are big savings to be made in DSR. Many of them are about better understanding, data and behaviour change. Let’s not be blinded by shiny new stuff and rush to hardware (again) before thinking about other options.