Just when you thought it was safe to relax about Energy

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Did you hear about the crisis that hit the UK on 4th  November, causing  massive disruption, and provoking outcry in industry, and suddenly sent energy rocketing back up the UK’s political agenda?

You probably didn’t hear this, because the first major threat to the UK’s national grid this winter still left it with a princely 2% spare capacity, sufficient for the National Grid to issue a “notification of inadequate system margin” (NISM), but insufficient to actually disrupt the service.

While this was only the first stage of alert, and while an abnormal lack of wind was an aggravating factor – bringing the UK’s now significant wind generation capacity almost to a halt, one of the mildest starts to November on record may have helped to save the day. As so often in human affairs, a “near miss” is treated as a near non-event. A single “hit” on the other hand could have major repercussions, prompting much more urgent action not just on the resilience of the UK’s national grid, but on how buildings respond to peaks and troughs in energy demand.

BSRIA has been reporting and analysing on Building Energy Management and the issues around it for a number of years now. One of the trends that we have noticed is that over time, more suppliers of building energy management solutions include some form of Demand Response as part of their solution. This enables a temporary reduction in the power drawn by certain services in the building where this does not impact on productivity or well-being.

Our latest review of the global leaders in Building Energy Management showed that almost half now offer demand response, the highest figure that we have seen to date. This includes both the global leaders in Building Automation and Energy Management and suppliers specialising in energy management.

At the same time, energy storage is being taken more serious as a viable and cost-effective way of providing additional resilience and peak capacity, both for energy suppliers and in some cases for consumers. While the UK is still some way from having a thriving market in home energy storage systems comparable to that developing in Germany (where residential electricity is significantly more expensive), it seems quite likely that any significant grid outages will give a boost to the market for battery storage for both residential and non-residential use.

It is still quite hard to judge how probable a major power outage is in the UK this winter. There are already further processes for demand reduction which can be invoked if the situation gets tighter than it did on November 4th. However a coincidence of severe cold with a lack of wind, and unplanned outages at power stations is not inconceivable. And the major strategic initiatives, such as the construction of two new nuclear power plants, will take years to come online.

The UK has got used to ‘living dangerously, and so far has got away with it. But the sensible response to a lucky escape is to learn the lessons, and  not to assume that your luck will go on holding indefinitely.

The very least we can say is that all organisations should be looking at the potential implications of even a short interruption to power supplies, and how they can best mitigate these.

I shall be talking a bit more about BSRIA’s latest research into building energy management and related areas in a webinar on Tuesday 24th November, so I hope that you will be able to join me then

Summary and Opportunities – Smart Cities and Smart Energy


Bill Wright, Head of Energy Solutions, ECA

Bill Wright, Head of Energy Solutions, ECA, briefly summarised the BSRIA/ECA Conference in Dublin on the 11th June 2015 looking at previous papers and highlighting a few areas for further discussion / questioning . A few topics that came to the fore in the presentations were:

Sustainability – what actually is the meaning of this? Is a business sustainable if it is highly energy efficient, uses recycled materials and has a very low carbon footprint, or is a sustainable business about being in business tomorrow? It is best to be a combination of both but what is the best mix? Ethics can also come into this. A difficult question which can be discussed at length!

Another area for discussion is who pays for the infrastructure put in place for these Smart Cities? It is not so long ago that you paid for internet access in hotels and public areas, now it is generally regarded as being free, but is it? The costs are being absorbed into everyday prices as we begin to take internet access for granted. Ultimately we all pay. The installation of Smart meters and their operation will be paid for by higher energy bills, but it is hoped that the cost will be offset by lower energy usage. Time will tell.

Smart meters were discussed and compared between the UK and Ireland. The Irish ‘thin’ meter seems more compatible with major software changes as all the ‘intelligence’ is in a central processor unit, away from the meter. The UK version has its own processor. There is a danger it will be obsolete before the final units are installed.

Smart meters will bring remote monitoring down in price and improve availability of data as well as the reality of being able to monitor peoples’ actions in buildings. Another ethical question – how far do we go in this? Actions such as putting the kettle on or heating can be monitored bringing in the possibility of monitoring care homes – but this could lose the human contact.

There was considerable emphasis on Smart Grids and how the nature of power generation was changing as renewable energy sources at the periphery of the grid network were providing an increasing proportion of the power required for a country. Networks were designed for central power plants distributing electricity to the periphery, not the other way round. Considerable effort has to be put in to keep the system stable as the proportion of renewable or local energy sources proliferate. New standards were being developed as part of the international wiring regulations on how to integrate all these systems together. These may appear in the next edition of the UK IET Wiring Regulations, BS7671.

There was mention of the European super grid where power can be transmitted east to west or north to south to enable power to be generated in the most advantageous places and move to meet peak demands in various countries at different times.

All of this will be controlled by, or use the internet for communication. How secure is this? Many examples are available of systems being hacked into and taken over. How can this be stopped when we become ever more reliant on secure communications? Systems must be designed in such a way so as to be impregnable!

The redevelopment of the Dublin Institute of Technology was given as a good example of sustainable development where many systems, design and construction could be integrated on a new site to give an excellent performing series of buildings. Good initial design and programming the construction is the key to the success of this.

All of this brings the building controls industry into greater importance and our profession must grasp this and ensure that systems are designed and installed to the highest standards. This gives many opportunities to get involved, especially on the installation side where it is deemed to be at present strictly for specialists. New areas of building design such as power over data and LVDC systems should be grasped and brought into use to improve energy use and overall sustainability. The recent announcement by Tesla of the home battery system to enable PV systems to store energy to be used overnight is an exciting development which we can all use.

We are working in exciting times and it is great to be in the Building Services Industry. Let’s keep ourselves at the forefront of technology for the good of all.

The presentations from the Energy and Sustainability Network event are available to download from the BSRIA website. 

%d bloggers like this: