Delivering Energy to Buildings in a Future UK

By Dr David Clarke, CEO of Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) 6 May 2015

SPECIFIC's first Building as a Power Station demonstrator pod to showcase and test the entire ‘generate, store, release’ system

Distributed generation is here to stay

by Dr David Clarke, CEO of Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) 

The UK electricity generation system has evolved over the last 50 years and currently consists of around 220 major, grid connected power stations (>5MW) providing around 95GW capacity.  Just 30 plants make up 50% of this capacity - their average age is 30 years.

Renewal of this capacity is needed and a range of ‘central generation’ solutions are being implemented including new nuclear build, new gas plant and a range of renewables (wind, tidal, anaerobic digestion, etc).  These units all require significant planning and environmental consents, financing mechanisms and supply contracts – all of which take time to complete and do not always result in successful delivery of a new unit.

Over the last 5-8 years small scale PV solar has shown that a different model can work in the UK with over 575,000 installations up to 4KW now registered for Feed In Tariff receipt.  This equates to ~2.5GW of capacity ….. when the sun shines.  The PV story shows that some UK consumers (~1 in 40 households) are prepared to engage in a different type of business model for supply of some of their energy - albeit one based on substantial government financial support to deliver the benefits.

UK PV in 2014
•    + 2.5GW UK domestic PV capacity – probably provided ~8% of demand at Sunday lunch in late June 2014
•    Systems not managed or centrally controlled – if the sun shines they should be generating but may not be – dependent on installation and local grid connection condition
•    Nevertheless - distributed generation is here and is staying with uptake driven by business model for consumer
•    No fixed model yet established for the future – PV success to date driven by simplicity
                 -    Low capital cost
                 -    Low maintenance
                 -    Assured return (FIT)
•    Without storage PV does not help with managing peak demand on a Friday evening in winter

Heat delivery is already a distributed energy solution – through gas boilers

Heat demand in the UKOn Saturday 18th December 2010 the demand for heat delivery in the UK rose by 132GW in just one hour.  The UK gas system supported this and the subsequent >100GW reduction in the next hour.   Given the UK electricity generation capacity of ~95GW it is clear this level of ‘instant on’ heat delivery could not be achieved with anything like today’s electricity generation, transmission and distribution systems coupled to today’s buildings, heating systems and consumer expectations for comfort and affordability.

Nevertheless, delivering the UK’s energy and climate change targets for CO2 emissions reductions is not achievable whilst sustaining the existing UK gas heating approach at a national level.  Moving to having more electrically heated buildings (primarily using heat pumps and resistance heating) is important but requires new technology in electricity generation, delivery and conversion to heat (in line with consumer demands and expectations) to mitigate the need for otherwise (essentially) unaffordable levels of new central generation capacity and distribution system upgrades.1

Role of the SPECIFIC IKC in delivering new solutions to the electrical heating challenge

SPECIFIC plays a key role in the UK in enabling innovation to identify, develop and test new technology and building system solutions which address the challenge of delivering low carbon energy into buildings effectively and efficiently – both electricity and, critically, low carbon heat for UK dwellings and businesses.

The SPECIFIC concept of ‘buildings as power stations’ provides the focus for multiple strands of technology and construction to come together under a single vision and with a single aim.

Whilst the group focused initially on routes to delivering low cost PV solar collectors into the building fabric, they have rapidly expanded their thinking into new systems and approaches for storage and release (delivery) of electricity and heat – establishing demonstrations of the full concept of ‘buildings as power stations’ with generation, storage and release integrated into a single building through a variety of subsystems.

Much of the work on generation remains focused on low cost solar PV but PV alone does not provide a solution for electricity and heat delivery at 6pm on a winter Friday.  PV generation with local storage and release can address this need – provided the storage has sufficient capacity and meets consumer’s needs for space utilisation and cost.

These requirements for integration of systems into the building fabric to save space and reduce cost is one reason why SPECIFIC have focused on how functional coatings and materials can be used as part of the underpinning building structures and fabric rather than as separate, additional elements.  

The group also recognise that creating innovative, simple, multi-functional elements (such as flooring tiles with low cost electric resistance heating elements incorporated under them by screen printing and electrical connections formed as part of the tile laying process itself),  simplifies the installation of the unit, increases robustness and reliability and helps build the business case for manufacturers, builders and designers to all support the developments.

SPECIFIC’s engagement with large corporate suppliers, major building contractors and building system integrators, as well as innovative technology and product development SMEs reflects their approach to addressing this opportunity which requires an integrated approach across both the breadth and depth of the building components supply-base.

1.ETI’s detailed costings of these challenges and potential solutions were submitted to the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee on 17.9.2014 and will be available on the ETI website shortly

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