Last night Upside Energy received the 2018 Ashden Impax Award for Energy Innovation at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Upside Energy was honoured for its ground-breaking approach to balancing the National Grid. Its Virtual Energy Store™ shifts electricity use to help balance demand and supply, allowing the grid to integrate more renewable energy capacity and reducing the use of old, polluting power stations.
The Ashden Awards are given to sustainable energy pioneers and are a globally recognised measure of excellence. Former UN Climate Chief and key architect of the Paris Climate Agreement, Christiana Figueres, was the keynote speaker at the Ceremony.
In the past, the UK’s electricity system was kept stable by gas and coal power plants running below full power, so they could quickly increase or decrease output to respond to changing circumstances. But as renewable energy generation increases, there are fewer fossil fuel power plants operating, and the use of polluting ‘peaking plants’ needs to be avoided because of their high CO2 emissions.
To tackle this issue, Upside Energy’s Virtual Energy Store™ connects to devices and energy storage systems that don’t need constant power. It temporarily turns them on or off to help balance the grid, reducing the need for fossil fuel power stations to do this, and enabling more renewable energy to be connected.
At present, Upside Energy makes use of its fleet of connected devices to participate directly in the National Grid’s flexibility markets. However, Upside is currently in discussions with other organisations that are interested in making use of its platform. For example, an energy supplier could offer its customers Upside-enabled home energy storage in return for a cheaper tariff. The supplier would then make use of the storage, through Upside Energy’s platform, to participate in flexibility markets or avoid imbalance penalties.
A distribution network operator could use Upside-enabled electric vehicles to smooth out peak demand at an overloaded substation, allowing more people to recharge their cars without an expensive upgrade to the substation.
Currently, Upside Energy’s flexibility suppliers are large business and commercial sites with uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) – large batteries that provide instant emergency power if the mains power fails. A UPS battery doesn’t need to be kept at 100% as long as it has sufficient charge to carry out its job, so it has some scope to charge and discharge to help balance the grid.
However, the future for Upside Energy also lies in household devices. Heat pumps, fridges and domestic energy storage can be turned off for short periods and electric vehicle charging points can be instructed to operate at times of low energy demand. Ultimately, anything that can either store energy or has some flexibility about when it uses energy, and is connected to the Internet, could work with Upside Energy.
The Ashden judges said: “Upside Energy’s innovative approach to flexibility has the potential to revolutionise the sector, making it practical to involve millions of devices in homes and businesses in keeping the grid stable.”
Graham Oakes, Upside Energy founder and Chief Scientist, collected the award. He said: “We are so proud to be Ashden Award winners; the Award is recognition of all the thought and hard work put in by the Upside Energy team. Climate change is a hugely urgent issue which needs to be tackled through innovative solutions and we hope that our work with large institutions like the National Grid and utility, commercial and industrial companies will effect real change.”
Ten awards were presented at the ceremony to organisations working on the frontline of energy innovation, sustainable buildings, energy market disruption, and clean air in towns and cities, both in the UK and globally. All winners will receive a prize of up to £20,000 along with tailored support to help scale up their work.