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Building automation – is crucial to the successful integration of smart grids and cities

Nov 2014 Smart Homes | Comments Off on Building automation – is crucial to the successful integration of smart grids and cities
Building automation – is crucial to the successful integration  of smart grids and cities

Smart housing and building automation will play an important role in ensuring that the UK energy supply system maintains the correct balance between supply and demand in the future and will be a key part of the future smart grid in the UK, as BEAMA’s Terry Rowbury reports.

A year ago, as we moved towards 2014, many people were, unfortunately, looking back at a Christmas spent without electricity. Then recent storms had caused havoc with the electricity network across the country with over 300,000 homes being cut-off on Christmas Eve.

Whilst in the majority of cases power was restored quite quickly, there were a considerable number of properties whose occupants spent the whole Christmas period without power. This should serve as a stark reminder to us all on how much we depend on a secure power supply to run our daily lives.

Smaller safety buffer

The balance between supply and demand is becoming increasingly complicated and National Grid has already forewarned of the risk of more frequent electricity shortages. Maintaining the balance between supply and demand is not easy and the safety buffer between the two has been reducing over the past few years and is now at its lowest since 2007.

The mix of generation source is also changing with the generation of electricity from power stations now being increasingly supplemented by renewable generation. Whilst electricity generated from power stations is relatively straightforward to manage, electricity generated from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, is much less predictable and, therefore, maintaining the balance of supply and demand from a multitude of supply sources is becoming more complex.

The demand side is also changing; the decarbonising of the grid will lead to increased use of heat pumps in the heating sector and an increase in electric vehicles in the transport sector. The electricity grid will need to be able to adapt to these new loads without disrupting the existing supply and this will require a new way of operating the electricity system.

In response to this there is an increasing push to introduce a ‘smarter’ way of operating the system. This can only be achieved through a holistic approach that manages both the supply side and the demand side.

It is for this reason that the term ‘smart’ is increasingly being used within government and industry to define relevant activity areas. Disciplines, such as smart metering, smart housing and smart cities, will each have their role to play to ultimately deliver the smart grid as a whole.

Smart meters to change behaviours

We have already seen the government’s commitment to the smart meter rollout and the foundation stage is well underway, with the UK now positioned as the most advanced energy and smart meter market in the EU. This will have an important effect on the move towards a smart grid in that it will provide the impetus for energy consumers to act differently.

Most consumers currently have a passive relationship with their electricity consumption, but as the smart grid evolves there will be more active roles for consumers of different sizes to play. For example, domestic customers with smart meters could choose different tariffs and make use of smart appliances that incentivise them to shift demand away from peak times.

For large industrial and commercial customers, there will be the opportunity to participate in an expanded range of demand response schemes, whiled small-scale generators can adjust export to the grid to participate in demand response schemes.

This move to a more active consumer base will be the catalyst for an increase in the development of the smart home, and technology will play a key role in enabling consumer participation.

Smart home technologies expand

The smart home technology market in the UK continues to grow but is currently concentrated in the luxury end of the market. This will change as the smart meter roll-out is expected to be the catalyst which will drive all types of consumers to seek better ways to manage their energy usage.

This improved management of energy use by consumers is likely to manifest itself either through consumers taking more proactive responsibility, or by consumers delegating a third party to manage their energy use. The latter option could be via an energy service company (ESCO) whereby the consumer pays an agreed fee to the ESCO, which would then ensure that the consumers had sufficient heating, lighting, power etc., to meet their needs.

The onus would be on the ESCO to achieve this as efficiently as possible so that they can make a profit.

Greater connectivity and control

Regardless of who manages the consumer’s energy use there will be a greater demand for both connectivity and control. This is likely to drive increased technology development/take-up on two levels:

Individual appliances that can be remotely monitored or controlled. For example, in the future, heating systems will be remotely monitored so that preventative maintenance can be identified and carried out. Consumers will also be able to interact remotely with their heating system

Smart homes / building automation – full integration of: security, lighting, heating, photovoltaics (solar PV), solar, etc, on a smart home communication platform – in other words a home energy management system.

Various smart home types

In turn, there are likely to be different types of smart home based on individual consumer needs and the product manufacturers have identified the following four generic types of smart home:

‘Green’ smart home – This allows the householder to reduce their impact on the environment by providing energy usage information, control strategies and automated operation of products.

‘Safe and secure’ smart home – This enables the householder to be more secure in their homes via security products, which allow for increased user interaction, more remote controls, monitoring; Internet use and other communication methods.

‘Assisted living’ smart home – This has features enabling householders to enjoy, and remain longer in their homes, irrespective of age and/or disability.

‘Lifestyle’ smart home – This possesses products with functionality to provide lifestyle benefits including intelligent entertainment systems and online on-demand services.

The full range of smart technologies is currently available to deliver smart homes in each of the above categories.

Participation and communication

Active participation by consumers in peak shifting and demand reduction is needed for this to have an impact on the smart grid. There will be a need for greater two-way communication between energy suppliers and consumers and the smart meter rollout will be a major step in this process. Once completed, there will be a wealth of data that can be utilised to manage the overall electricity system.

More proactive individual consumers can lead to smart communities, smart districts and, ultimately, smart cities. Data from these ‘mini-grids’ can be used to more accurately predict demand and can coordinate the range of local generation alongside power required to and from the grid.

Over time, the two-way interaction between supply and demand will be self-learning and self-compensating and, as such, will be much more efficient in the management of varying loads.

Business opportunities – be ahead!

The designers, contractors, installers that embrace this new way of thinking will be ahead of the game and will be best placed to make the most of the opportunities that will arise in the future. The product manufacturers will continue to develop the necessary technologies but the emphasis will be more on communications and interoperability between technologies in the future. These are areas where much of the forward thinking is taking place and the future is being shaped today.

The end result will be a much more integrated approach to getting the balance right between electricity supply and demand with end users being equally involved in the process. The existing electricity system will be made to work more efficiently and the fear of blackouts will be significantly reduced.

The development of smart homes will be a key element of this and the whole supply chain needs to be gearing up to make the most of this significant business opportunity.