Whole-systems thinking in low carbon heat: WWU & WPD’s FREEDOM Project

Ahead of the Low Carbon Network Innovation (LCNI) Conference, taking place from the 5th – 7th December in Telford, we will be posting introductions to some of the ground-breaking innovation projects that will be presented there by our members.

By Nigel Turvey, Network Strategy & Innovation Manager at Western Power Distribution, and Chris Clarke, Director of Asset Management at Wales & West Utilities

As Energy Network’s Association has been recently arguing, the best way to strike a balance between cost, decarbonisation and security of supply is through a ‘whole-systems’ approach – one which looks at how our energy infrastructure can use new smart technologies in an integrated way, and one that builds on the strength of our existing assets to do so. If our power, heat, transport and waste sectors are all interdependent, then so must the solutions for their decarbonisation. .

Wales & West Utilities and Western Power Distribution (WPD), along with other network companies, have been working closely to turn this concept into a reality. Whilst much of the limelight on decarbonised heat innovation in recent years has focussed on the Renewable Heat Incentive, energy networks have been quietly making progress as a result of innovation supported through the RIIO price control framework.

The FREEDOM (Flexible Residential Energy Efficiency Demand Optimisation and Management) Project, a joint Wales & West Utilities and WPD £5m innovation project in the Bridgend ‘living heat laboratory’ in South Wales, is one such example. Using an air-source heat pump and high-efficiency gas boiler hybrid system in 75 residential properties, the project clearly demonstrates the value that an integrated approach to deploying low-carbon smart technologies can deliver. Project estimates suggest that a hybrid approach to decarbonising our heating that is combined with green gas growth could lead to as much as an 80% reduction in carbon emissions from domestic heat.

Smart switching between the two technologies through a control panel enables the buying of fuel and the sale of heat simultaneously, creating value for both the consumer and enabling the system to offer heat and power flexibility services to the wider network. The project simulates a residential demand side response service, with an aggregator buying gas and electricity on live wholesale markets on behalf of the consumer to meet their chosen settings.

This ‘fuel arbitrage’ system’ creates value for not only the consumer but also the wider system. In creating a product that can be sold to heat demand aggregators and service providers, it reduces or removes the need for capital expenditure by the consumer, removing the need for Government subsidy and giving fuel-poor households the ability to benefit from low-carbon technology.

With just a 6% penetration of traditional heat pumps leading to a 16% increase in peak electricity demand, the hybrid approach of the two technologies will allow empowered Distributed Service Operators to utilise the technology to manage electricity demand. Up to 50% of gas used for domestic heating could be replaced with electrical heat generated from renewable sources. Whether the technologies are used simultaneously or one is used over the other, they will ensure that the customer not only benefits from lowest-cost fuel source but isn’t unnecessarily penalised for heating their home at a time of peak demand, helping them reduce their bills.

The FREEDOM Project is just one example of the kind of whole-systems innovation that local Distribution Network Operators and Gas Distribution Networks are now pioneering around the UK. Across the sector and supported by RIIO innovation funding, networks are finding new and exciting ways to meet the heat decarbonisation challenge. Whilst we still might be still waiting for greater clarity on Government policy on decarbonising heat, one thing is clear – an integrated, whole-systems approach will be key to delivering that.

For more information about the FREEDOM project, please click here.

Western Power Distribution and Wales & West Utilities will be presenting the FREEDOM project at the LCNI conference on Wednesday 6th December.

For more information about LCNI, and to buy tickets, please click here




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