Flexing Domestic Assets
Updated: Aug 19, 2022
The challenges, improvements and what's next
The UK energy system is going through the largest change in decades, in a bid to transition to a zero-carbon world. Every day, more and more renewable generation is coming onto the system to replace fossil fuel generators and as a result is changing the characteristics of the grid. Generation is becoming more variable and as a result more flexibility is needed by National Grid to ensure that generation and demand are in balance. Previously, gas peaker power plants (small gas-powered energy generation) could be switched on at short notice to fill the gap, but as we move away from fossil fuels, the gap needs to be filled by other assets delivering flexibility – not just by increasing generation, but alternatively by reducing demand.
Here at KrakenFlex, we are already leading the charge to help support the grid flexibility (controlling big batteries, wind and solar farms and industrial heat pumps), but there is a large number of mostly untapped assets which could also help to support the grid, and which will grow over the next 30 years to be able to deliver as much as 44GW of flexibility. Those assets are supporting our transition to low carbon transportation and heating and making our homes as self-sufficient as possible – assets such as EVs, heat pumps, heat storage and home batteries.
Using those assets connected to our homes and businesses for flexibility comes with its many challenges – unlike big batteries, we need to aggregate many 1,000’s of devices together to deliver the services that the electricity grid needs. There are many different manufacturers of these devices which means the way that we can connect and control them is not as simple as plugging them into a flexibility platform to make use of them.
This is the innovative challenge that KrakenFlex along with its sister company, Octopus Energy has started to tackle.
What are the challenges and how does it differ to the other large assets that KrakenFlex connects to?
Big batteries are expensive – the cost of these runs into the millions. They are purchased mainly for the purpose of offering grid services and they take up a lot of space. To allow us to control them, we install our gateway on the customer site – this allows us to define how we connect to the site, how we control the charging/discharging of the battery and what information we get back from the site (which is very important when we are delivering grid services). We only need to integrate our flexibility platform to our gateway once which allows us to connect to many different battery manufacturers.
In comparison, EVs, Heat Pumps and Home Batteries have been purchased by the homeowner for another purpose – transportation, heating, and self-sufficiency – though expensive, the cost is in the thousands rather than millions and as a bi-product, they can be used to support the electricity grid by varying the time and power that they use. This has the benefit of keeping the cost of operating the grid lower and in turn, helps to reduce the cost to the homeowner too.
The way they are controlled and the way that we can connect to them varies. We rely on the manufacturer to make this information available. There are currently very few standards on how we connect to, control or define what information should be available from the devices. For EVs this is even more complex as we could connect to the EV itself or the charge point that it is plugged into.
Some manufacturers allow us to connect to the devices directly using open standards such as Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) for EV charge points, but mostly they require us to connect to their cloud services to be able to control the devices. This means implementing their Application Programming Interface (APIs) which are all different and offer varying levels of controls and information. Some manufacturers, though they allow you to connect to their devices, do not support 3rd party integrations and will quite happily change the way this works without any notice, requiring us to change the way we work to keep it working!
There are some innovative companies operating in this space that have started to connect to many manufacturers' systems and provide a single integration point, which allows their customers to connect to one platform and control many different devices.
How could things be improved?
The government has already started to require charge point manufacturers to make their devices “smart” which means that any smart charger sold in the UK must offer the same minimum functionality. They have directed the British Standards Institute (BSI) to create a standard for Energy Smart Appliances and the Demand Side Response services that they should offer.
However, much more needs to be done in this space and we would like to see the manufacturers coming together to develop a standard way to integrate to EVs, heat pumps and batteries so these devices can be easily connected to, so that it would be easier to use them to offer services to support the electricity grid.
How does KrakenFlex differ from other aggregators and flexibility providers?
Where KrakenFlex is different, is our expertise in optimising assets. Working with suppliers, we use market signals which indicate when generation is abundant or when the electricity grid is under pressure. We then optimise EV charging, home heating and charging & discharging of home batteries to deliver the requirements of the customer, whilst optimising them with the information from the supplier to allow them to offer amazing, low-cost energy to the customer.
This all helps us to deliver services to the national grid to keep the generation and demand in balance as well as at a local level offering services to network operators to control the load in a constraint management zone (CMZ).
The way that we do this today is not the way we would want to do this in the future, but until there are more standards and openness by the manufacturers, KrakenFlex and other aggregators need to keep innovating and pushing the boundaries so that we can start to realise the benefits that EVs, heat pumps and home batteries bring to the electricity grid and demonstrate to customer how putting us in control of their devices will allow us to reduce the running costs for them.