Flexible resource management and technical breakthroughs in efficiency have helped the UK prove predictions of “Blackout Britain” were wide off the mark, according to Alastair Martin, founder of Flexitricity, one of the country’s two main flexible services providers.
Commenting on Wednesday’s contingent capacity market auction, he said ‘it wasn’t a surprise that the price was low, but it was astonishing that participants were willing to force it down as low as that”. The one-year auction, which will only be valid if the European Court of Justice challenge to the capacity market is resolved, cleared at just £0.77/kW - much lower than the most recent price in the four-year auction of £8.40/kW and the high of £22.50/kW. The record low price reflects the state of the UK network today after a reduction in lighting load thanks to LED lighting has reduced the winter peak, while new flexible resources are becoming available. The auction was massively oversubscribed. More than 9.4GW of de-capacity entered but only 3.6GW – or 38.5% – secured an agreement.
Demand response and distributed energy aggregators such as Flexitricity and Limejump use virtual power plants to manage flexible resources and supply power to the grid whether for the day-ahead and intraday markets, balancing, frequency response or other ancillary services. Flexitricity recently added to its 450MW portfolio a 19.5MW battery storage unit in partnership with Anesco, which will be managed from its Edinburgh control room. The Flexitricity+ platform was designed with the optionality to manage the variations in different types of batteries and demand response resources, Martin says.
A utility-scale battery may have capacity of 0.5 to 2 hours, and while it can come online quickly it needs continuous monitoring and planning to know the state of charge. “You have to work to maximize the value,” says Martin. “It’s not a lick and stick job.” Whereas confidence in the availability of a utility-scale battery can be high, a combined heat and power generator is less predictable as its potential output will depend on heating demand, and so it can be scheduled for shorter periods ahead. Similarly on the demand response side, cold storage warehouses can turn off cooling consumption with more flexibility than a manufacturer can switch off its production cycle, and so interruption frequency varies according to the particular needs of each resource.
Flexitricity is using machine learning to create algorithms to value the assets in its portfolio and assess the optimal price at which to offer into the market, which changes all the time, Martin says. Ofgem needs to understand that in future flexibility is going to come from multiple small sources such as electric vehicles and heating and cooling systems, so metering will need to be granular and simple, with half hourly metering for customers. Flexitricity is participating in the P375 Metering behind the Boundary Point initiative with Elexon to design a new metering protocol.
New initiatives to unlock customer flexibility are underway in the UK, such as the government funding for four smart energy systems demonstrating batteries, heat pumps, electric vehicles and demand management in community projects. Flexitricity is participating in one of these, the Smart Hub SLES, West Sussex, led by Advanced Infrastructure, which will have a virtual power plant and a hybrid hydrogen EV charging station to manage energy across housing, transport and commercial properties.