January 5, 2024

Energy Flexibility in UK's Commercial Buildings

Distributed energy resources and real life examples of flexibility for buildings

Reducing Costs with Energy Flexibility in UK's Commercial Buildings

There are c.1.6m commercial buildings in the UK with a combined energy usage of 141TwH, which is about a third of the UK’s total annual energy consumption. The UK’s drive towards achieving net-zero, is simply not possible without businesses working in partnership with the energy industry to adopt energy-efficient strategies. 

In our first blog, we spoke about the role of energy flexibility, and explained some of the jargon around DERs (distributed energy resources) and demand response.  Here, we’re going to explain how large commercial buildings can work to leverage energy flexibility, benefitting from both reducing their emissions and leveraging the financial incentives of energy flexibility.

Distributed energy resources (DERs) and flexibility

DERs are critical to the accessibility of energy flexibility markets - which are crucial to the electrification of the energy grid.  DERs are local, small-scale connected devices that either generate, consume or store electricity. They include solar panels, batteries, HVACs, EV chargers etc. These resources provide localised energy flexibility. These resources allow businesses to generate their own electricity and reduce reliance on traditional grid-supplied power. By generating clean energy on-site, commercial buildings can significantly decrease their carbon footprint and contribute to the overall net-zero target.

For example, a commercial building may install solar panels on its roof to generate clean electricity. These panels can produce power during daylight hours and reduce the building's reliance on the grid.  To optimise the use of solar energy, the building can integrate battery storage systems. These batteries store excess energy during peak solar generation and discharge it during periods of high demand, reducing the building's reliance on grid electricity and enabling greater energy independence. By using electricity from the grid when prices are cheaper, commercial buildings can save money and reduce strain on the grid. This is flexibility in the most simple form.

Demand-side management

In addition to DERs and renewable energy generation, Demand Response (DR) programs enable businesses to adjust their electricity consumption based on supply-demand dynamics. During peak periods when demand for electricity is high, businesses can voluntarily reduce their usage or shift it to off-peak hours. This flexibility helps alleviate strain on the grid and reduces the need for additional fossil fuel-based power generation.

Large commercial buildings can participate in demand response programs to enhance grid flexibility and earn financial benefits. During peak demand periods or when renewable generation is low, the building can voluntarily curtail non-essential electricity usage or shift energy-intensive processes to off-peak hours.  

For example, a large commercial building could adjust HVAC systems to reduce cooling or heating during peak demand events, implement lighting control systems to dim or turn off non-essential lights, or optimise the operation of machinery and equipment. These measures not only contribute to grid stability but can also result in significant cost savings.

Flexibility for buildings

Large commercial buildings have a substantial opportunity to improve energy efficiency and contribute to the UK's journey towards net zero. By embracing DERs such as rooftop solar panels, battery energy storage, and combined heat and power units, buildings can reduce reliance on the grid and minimise carbon emissions - tapping into the benefits of energy flexibility. Participating in demand response programs empowers businesses to actively support grid stability while potentially benefiting from financial incentives.  

The combination of DERs and DR not only enhance energy efficiency but also provides commercial buildings with greater control over their energy consumption. By adopting these strategies, businesses can actively contribute towards achieving net-zero while benefiting from cost savings through reduced reliance on grid-supplied electricity.