A new residential grid flexibility service available in parts of the U.K. will combine energy storage, vehicle-to-grid and smart EV charging for the first time. The project, led by energy technology firm Kaluza, will trade that flexibility in close to real-time conditions.

The program looks to shift EV charging away from times of high demand while tapping those EV batteries and an existing network of sonnen battery systems to bolster the grid as required. In addition to helping to balance the local grid, consumers will be able to make money by selling power back to it from their car or home batteries.

Kaluza, an independent part of the Ovo utility group, is working with local distribution network Western Power Distribution and the flexibility marketplace Nodes. Western Power Distribution serves about 8 million U.K. customers. After a two-year trial that included 300 homes, the flexibility service will be open to any utility operating in WPD's territory.

The ShortFlex trading platform, via Norwegian market operator Nodes, offers intraday flexibility services, rather than the weekly or monthly trading that is more common. As a result, the complex patterns of domestic supply and demand can be balanced at a frequency more attuned to their usage.

“In the last couple of years, we've seen flexibility markets start to emerge on the distribution networks. But traditionally, they're quite simple in the way that they operate,” said Conor Maher-McWilliams, head of the flexibility unit at Kaluza, in an interview.

“A network operator might say, ‘I want someone who can turn down 50 kilowatts between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. every weekday during the winter,’ and there isn't much more to it than that."

As well as being more responsive, an intraday market will also offer a lot more insight into residential flexibility, Maher-McWilliams said. “If you think about a household with flexible electric heating systems and an electric vehicle, over those [weekly and monthly] time scales, it's very hard to predict and understand what flexibility is going to be available from a given household."

The granularity of Nodes’ system means Kaluza can use its AI and machine-learning algorithms to optimize control of the devices in real time as well as forecasting what flexibility will be available further into the future.

"Untapped resource" of flexibility

Flexibility at the transmission and distribution levels will be essential on the road toward net-zero carbon in the U.K. and Europe. Energy storage, demand response and better interconnections between nations will all have a part to play.

According to research by Wood Mackenzie, Europe's five biggest power markets will have to deploy a combined total of 80 gigawatts of those three technologies between 2020 and 2030.

“Residential flexibility to date has been an untapped resource,” said Rory McCarthy, principal analyst with Wood Mackenzie’s energy storage team, in an email.

“In the U.K., the residential segment is in fact one of the key drivers for system flexibility. It drives the system peak over the winter — i.e., the most expensive electricity of the year — that pushes a lot of power infrastructure upgrade needs. As the residential sector electrifies its transport and heat, this has the potential to drive system costs even higher,” said McCarthy.

“That is why it is more important than ever to capitalize on the vast source of volatility and flexibility in the residential segment, from heat pumps to EVs,” he added.

Achieving that is not straightforward, but Maher-McWilliams is confident that Kaluza’s technology can be scaled up off the back of its successful trial. Access to services like these depends on customers having a smart meter. The U.K.’s much-delayed smart meter rollout continues to limp along.

The regulatory part of the equation is not entirely finished as things stand.

“There's a lot for [regulator] Ofgem to do in making sure that there's the right price signals and incentives in the market so that a customer can be rewarded for the full value of the flexibility they offer to the grid,” said Maher-McWilliams. “At the moment, someone can physically turn stuff on and off to aid the grid at times, but there isn't a full set of price signals that really incentivize customers to engage.”

For now, Kaluza hopes to keep adding customers to the service and expanding the network of hardware partners and utilities that it works with.

The company, though part of the Ovo Group, is not tied to working with them exclusively and already has a partnership with EDF on flexible heat. Kaluza doesn’t want to create a closed ecosystem and is broadly technology-agnostic, Maher-McWilliams said. 

The U.K. government has made it clear that interoperability is encouraged and if necessary, will be legislated for. “For flexibility to be meaningful, it has to be done at scale,” said Maher-McWilliams.