On Wednesday last week, 35 people attended Western Power Distribution’s (WPD) event in Exeter to help communities and local authorities learn more about flexibility, why it’s relevant and what it means for them. A flexible energy system will mean Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) can defer upgrading the network, which means a cheaper energy system for everyone.

The event kicked off with a beginners’ guide to flexibility which included the reasons why local energy stakeholders might want to participate. Flexibility is about modifying demand or generation in response to a signal, for a financial reward. In the absence of the Feed-in Tariff, flexibility services offer a payment for anyone willing to reduce demand or increase generation, at particular times, in specific areas. It isn’t enough revenue to buy new generation or storage assets, but it could support a marginal business case. In future, if we use our existing electricity distribution network more flexibly, there is the possibility that WPD could enable more low-carbon generation to connect.

Helen Sawdon, Flexible Power Commercial Officer for WPD, gave a presentation about the flexibility services WPD have developed, and the staged role out of Flexible Power across new areas. WPD publish Constraint Managed Zones (CMZs) on their website, and will have an invitation to tender (ITT) open between 12 August and 20 September offering to pay for flexibility in specific areas where they want to start using flexibility from Winter 2019. These new CMZs include Plymouth, where they need 36 megawatt (MW) peak/1552MWh of flexible power, Exeter, where they need 24MW peak/477MWh, and Newton Abbot where WPD are procuring 16MW peak/2618MWh. On average a MW of flexibility could earn you between £1,500 and £6,000 per year, and the smallest flexibility provider WPD have is providing six kilowatts (KW) from six households with home batteries.

Participants at the event in Exeter gave feedback during the workshops on what flexibility means to them and what would make it easier for them to engage. They called for a seed fund to help them participate and understand the benefits, as well as more tangible examples of how community and local energy projects could participate. A supermarket could turn off air-conditioning or refrigeration systems, and a factory with back up diesel generators could switch them on, but what could a community with a 5MW solar farm or several hundred KW of rooftop PV spread across multiple sites do?

After lunch, Mary Gillie gave an engaging presentation about the role out of Energy Local, a local energy buying club in Bethesda, North Wales. Energy Local’s aim is to help communities get more value from renewable generation by using it locally, but Mary talked about the intricacies of our energy system and the challenges this project has faced with how the market is regulated and paid for. Energy Local are testing and using local automation for controllable appliances with user schedules within the home, and changing habits as far as is practical to shape demand profiles, to match local hydro generation. This supports the local distribution network by managing energy at the lowest voltage, or household level first.

Ricky Duke, Innovation and Low Carbon Networks Engineer at WPD who’s been working on the world’s largest electric vehicle trial, Electric Nation, talked about WPD’s changing role as they become a Distribution System Operator (DSO) more actively managing the network. Ricky also talked about two of the innovation projects WPD are involved in. Visibility Plugs and Sockets Project is part of the Cornwall Local Energy Market and OpenLV is a project that gathers data from 80 low voltage (LV) substations to provide community energy groups with access to data to help trigger new ideas. Tamar Energy Community, who are participating in OpenLV, spoke about how this has helped them upskill and understand more about local balancing of supply and demand, as they have been able to visually show people the peaks and troughs in local energy demand and explain the impact and cost of this.

We had a great day in Exeter talking to communities and local authorities about the new revenue streams, opportunity to upskill in an expanding area of the energy market, and potential for flexibility to enable new connections. If you want to find out more, please find the presentations from Exeter on our website, or have a look at WPD’s Flexible Power website.

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