Chief Executive Officer Jordan Appleson is again joined by Bruntwood’s Energy Manager Bev Taylor. This time they discuss our energy infrastructure and how the whole system is complicated and not geared towards the consumer. We also learn more about how Bruntwood are utilising their Tesla battery pack and how Bev aims to make The Bright Building, their flagship building in Manchester, carbon positive and even turn that area of MSP into its own virtual power plant!
Jordan: We’re back at our favourite building, the Bright Building with Bev, star extraordinaire on Hark Studios, and we’re going to continue talking about energy management and sustainability.
Bev: We all know that energy generation isn’t difficult. We can do it via solar panels, ground source heat pumps etc. there’s lots of stuff that we can do to sort out the energy generation piece. There’s equally lots of stuff that we can do to these days to have transactional relationships with our customers; it’s that whole bit in the middle that we need to start putting the intelligence piece on there, we need to build a different culture around how we use our energy and how we pay for it. It’s really interesting for me because obviously, I’m old, we didn’t pay for our electricity via a quarterly direct debit. When I was younger, we used to put a shilling in the meter and people were really conscious of their energy use because it was a direct relationship, they were much closer to the transaction of the money.
Jordan: I’d forget! I don’t have change or cards or stuff like that, I’d just come home in the dark!
Bev: It is that really interesting thing about maybe looking at more disruptive models to change that system that we’ve got. So I think we’re all agreed on what we’ve got doesn’t really work that well, and the other interesting thing for me is the fact that in my day to day job, we’ve got an energy supply business and we only see prices going one way, rising significantly and we’ve got to do something to try to mitigate the increasing cost of those prices.
Jordan: That’s crazy. I was reading online that in terms of energy innovation, there are places in the world where actually, energy costs fall into the negative, yet here, where we are within this infrastructure, they seem to go up. I mean, I was only briefly reading about this yesterday that it’s because they have so much energy, but because of the infrastructure there’s no one to consume it, right?
Bev: Completely. So, even if you look at Oakney, this might not be correct, but it used to be, given where Oakney is, they’ve got so many wind farms on there, I think they produce 112% of the power that they actually need. But because of the infrastructure that they have, they’ve got huge numbers of people in fuel poverty. It’s just ridiculous, and it’s all down to the fact that the system we’ve got is not directed at the consumer. I think that the whole infrastructure set up and the billing process we have is incredibly complicated; as a licensed supplier, the number of industry bodies we need to interact with is absolutely crazy. We need to look at different models, and I think some of the stuff that people like you are doing, some of the things that we’re doing, I hope are starting to move us along that journey.
Jordan: Definitely, because I think it’s multifaceted. A building like this, the different types of energy that it draws, whether it’s something like a HVAC system or an LED lighting system, they have very specific power properties and because certain things are on at certain times during potentially a period of higher electricity costs, we can build intelligent software or intelligent cloud software. This allows us to better predict when they should be on and also make changes in real-time, rather than right now people going around and making those changes or it being fixed for summer and no one changing it in winter, which causes strain on the grid so really we’re killing two birds with one stone. That’s the kind of technology that I’m hoping we’re going to work together on over the next few months to see what we can do. I think what’s really interesting is when it comes to something like solar, the panels have a certain efficiency rating, right? Once you’ve got an estate full of solar panels, that efficiency tails off because they get dirty or something like that! We’ve then got a whole ecosystem of how do we keep these things as efficient as possible? And it’s the same for something like a Tesla battery power pack, even though it doesn’t have the same maintenance requirements as something like solar panels but there’s also another ecosystem there; you’ve got preventive maintenance to reduce downtime and increase energy efficiency, and that’s what we’re kind of focussing on right now.
Where are you at with the solar elements then? We’ve got a battery pack, it powers up the building for what, two or three hours a day?
Bev: Currently it’s about three hours a day. We’re not running the battery to its optimum levels, but that for us at the moment is the thing that’s driving the cleanest payback period for us.
Jordan: and that gets charged right now straight off the grid…
Bev: During the night, during its green period and we’re discharging it during its red period; it’s a really simple model. We could look at utilising the energy stored in the battery in lots of different ways, there’s lots of markets that we could tap into. There are things like short term operate and reserve, the capacity markets, firm frequency response, there’s various things that we could use it for, and part of that is deliberate. Part of that is around this idea of trying to make Bright Building a very smart building and understanding how we could make this carbon positive, which is my overall aim. It’s also around trying to deal with a single element of this revenue stacking proposal before we start complicating it for other people. The things that I’m talking about I think are the things everybody can get to grips with. It’s a really expensive period, let’s discharge the battery at that point.
Jordan: Absolutely. I think in order to make this something like, I say carbon positive because it’s not carbon neutral at this point, that means this needs to be of any kind of energy that is not renewable, right?
Jordan: So, some of that will be internal, i.e. retrofitting solar panels, powering and charging the battery of the solar panels and some of it will be, presumably, because you don’t have a wind turbine in your backyard, purchasing renewable energy. Is that how that would work?
Bev: Yes, some that is absolutely where it will go. As I say, we’re a licensed supplier. Some of that will also be around optimising other assets that we’ve got within the MSP/Bruntwood portfolio. So, if we think about, we’re very fortunate here in the Science Park Estate because it’s sort of a campus area environment, so there’s lots of things here whereby we could put panels on these roofs and utilise the energy from those panels to take this building off grid, particularly given where the sub-stations are. Interestingly, you know the edge building in Amsterdam? That’s the model that they’ve used. So, their building is carbon neutral- not all the solar panels would fit on their building, so they borrowed the roof from next door! We would probably do the same here.
Eventually, I want to try to turn this little bit of the Science Park into its own virtual powerplant, so all of these buildings, we’d look at optimising all of the assets for all of these buildings to try and create a local balancing market within this site.
Jordan: When you say assets, what do you mean? How do you achieve that?
Bev: Well I think it’s through software like yours. So it’s this idea of being able to put more solar generation on, look at where we can utilise storage and then using the AI and data driven principles like what you guys are looking at, around who’s using energy when, and how we flex that system. So, we’d arrive at the best value in terms of cost and secondly, we’re utilising our energy reserves in the best possible way. I think it’s that piece around all of us understanding the principles of this, it’s that ‘being clever with the data’ and starting to bring the AI into it, and that then will start to drive better decisions. We’ve got a lot of buildings where it’s on or off, and we’ve got to get away from that. We’ve got to get smarter!