“The driving force for PV has always been economic,” Tom says. “In the commercial space, it must make economic sense otherwise businesses just aren’t going to engage. Even those who look to utilise PV from an environmental agenda put cost at the centre of the objective.”
Most commercial sites have a half-hourly metered supply so at Connected Energy we model that data to see the shape of the load profile. Using analytics, it’s possible to model what solar panels will generate, what that will look like over a calendar year, and how BESS could be utilised to maximise savings.
Crucially, if we just model capturing the surplus energy generated from solar, we lose the chance to demonstrate what else a battery can do for businesses – storing surplus energy is just one benefit.
Alongside storing surplus solar power, modelling can show how BESS can help manage load profiles and reduce peak loads on site.
For example, if businesses require EV charging which might exceed the available capacity on site, it can be taken from BESS; if there is a significant load during a peak tariff period, it can be managed using low cost or locally generated supply; or if there is a good value night rate it’s possible to charge a battery with the cheaper rate and offset higher costs later in the day.
There is also revenue to be made from a BESS. The system can be charged and discharged to provide grid balancing services – a service for which National Grid will pay businesses.
The combination of applications is what will work to reduce energy bills. Modelling has the advantage of illustrating the operating model to support long term investments.
Many commercial operations have a demand of around 250/300 kilowatts. Bearing in mind that businesses will want to build in futureproofing, modelling can reflect predicted changes such as electrifying heating, adding EV charging, or installing a heat source pump. The business load today may differ significantly from that of the future and intelligent modelling will help to size a battery for the future with the best financial outcome.
The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has recently installed two BESS from Connected Energy on their own site – the most advanced low carbon smart building demonstrator – which also models how batteries can control energy costs and carbon emissions for manufacturers of all sizes, and in buildings of any age.
The battery storage units now installed at AMRC North West mean it will never have to increase its electricity capacity, even when more equipment is installed, and the site will always be able to operate within its green tariff by storing energy from the renewables on site.
“Any business with renewables on site could hugely benefit from a battery storage solution,” said Ben Smith, Low Carbon Smart Building Specialist at AMRC North West.
“It will allow us to maximise the energy generated from our renewables. For others like those in construction and manufacturing, two of the most energy intense industries, it will show what steps can be made with a BESS on the ground”.
With operational machinery and production lines using the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) the AMRC site will be a manufacturing energy ‘show home’. It will show businesses how they can achieve what, at present, might seem impossible – to manage and reduce energy bills, whilst increasing energy consumption and security.
The entire system is a great example of how an intelligent approach to energy can reduce business costs. By using AI and data modelling, the BESS can be automatically programmed to provide energy to the site at peak production times using excess renewables, or at times when tariffs are higher.
Consumption or export: a hierarchy of needs
The energy crisis has also accelerated a move towards self-sufficiency, or self-consumption, for businesses. We know that there are going to be significant incentives put in place to reduce grid peaks at busy times, so many companies are interested in flattening their load profile with batteries, so they don’t have to pay those high costs.
If a business operates on both a grid connection and PV array, then solar power is an asset that needs to be used first, to best effect. For example, in a warehouse or a logistics hub with available roof space, capitalising on that roof space will be necessary to combat the increasing volatility in energy prices. With rooftop PV, we can look at a model of a distributed system where energy is managed more at a local level.
This is really about futureproofing; about the energy system of the future where a roof becomes a generator, and you maximise the value of your generator by using storage. In turn, this provides you with resilience via self-consumption alongside reduced energy costs.
Resilience isn’t the only benefit of storage over export. In an example of using the BESS in a cost-efficient hierarchy, consider a business which has on site solar and offers EV charging on site. The BESS will whenever possible charge from surplus solar generation but when this is not available it will aim to charge from the grid during lower cost periods. When plugged in and charging from the EV charger, the vehicle will take the charge load from the battery using either renewable or lower cost electricity as priorities. If the electricity storage in the BESS is neither greener nor cheaper, then the load will be drawn directly from the grid. There may also be a financial or technical requirement to manage the site peak load in which case the BESS can contribute to provide load management.
The AMRC site takes the potential of BESS one step further, to automatically coordinate meteorological data with BESS data so that it is prepared in advance to maximise revenue opportunities around weather conditions. This is where battery data management with PV array really starts to show off in terms of measurable environmental and financial value.
The green machine: environmental payback and the case for second life
Payback isn’t all financial of course, even if that must be the first reference point for business owners. Many adopters of solar energy and BESS will be focused on environmental credentials, whether that’s ensuring a sustainable supply chain, relying less on energy from fossil fuels, meeting ESG commitments or reacting to internal pressure from stakeholders and staff.
Tom from Ren Energy clarifies that in many instances the environmental imperative is as important, if not more so than the cost imperative: