- Exploring the potential for energy flexibility in Oxford's Leisure Buildings
In February a new report was published as part of Project LEO that laid out the learnings from assessing Oxford City Council leisure buildings for energy flexibility.
Oxford City Council commissioned Consortio Ltd (funded by Project LEO) to carry out assessments and provide technical details to the council on the potential for five of their leisure sites to provide energy flexibility to the grid. Oxford City Council then produced a summary learnings report published as part of Project LEO, based on the findings of Consortio Ltd’s technical assessment.
The assessments had the overall objective of identifying the potential for using council leisure buildings to provide energy flexibility to the local network. It was also important that it clearly set out the technical requirements and barriers that need to be overcome in order to draw together the learnings in the Project LEO summary report.
What was the need for the assessment?
In order for any of their buildings to take part in energy flexibility trials, Oxford City Council had to first understand the amount of flexibility their assets could provide – this would be a number in KwH – and have the confidence that their assets were capable of delivering that flexibility for the required amount of time.
This assessment had not previously been carried out and Project LEO provided an opportunity for Oxford City Council to take this first step and provide key learnings for other local authorities as well as give them insights into their own next steps.
What was Consortio Ltd assessing?
Five council-owned buildings in Oxford city centre that had the potential to provide energy flexibility in their energy generation, storage and use were identified.
- Hinksey Outdoor Pool – a large heated outdoor pool.
- The Leys Leisure Centre – a gym, sports facility and indoor heated pool.
- Barton Leisure Centre – a gym, sports facility and indoor heated pool.
- Ferry Leisure Centre – a gym, sports facility and indoor heated pool.
- Oxford Ice Rink – an Olympic standard ice rink.
These buildings were chosen because (with the exception of the ice rink) they had recently installed heat pumps and battery storage, as well as pools which should be a good heat sink. The ice rink was chosen as it was thought the ice might be a good heat sink. Altogether, these made an ideal basis for looking at energy flexibility.
This essentially means turning the building’s energy use, generation and use of battery storage up and down at agreed periods of time during high grid demand to ease pressure on the local energy network. In return, the council would make savings on bills from the network provider that could then be channelled into other community initiatives.
Consortio Ltd’s assessment took the first step in understanding the buildings’ potential to provide flex, and the viability of flexibility in terms of value – what would it be worth? The City Council’s subsequent learnings report summarised valuable insights from the assessment and provided interpretation into what will be required to make this a reality.
What do the learnings report cover?
In order to take this first step in assessing flexibility potential, external consultants, Consortio Ltd were contracted to evaluate what energy flexibility could be easily realised on each of the sites now, using existing equipment, by answering the following key questions:
- What are the main sources of flexibility within the buildings?
- How much flexibility can be provided and when?
- What flexibility services can these buildings provide for Project LEO and what is the possible value to Oxford City Council?
- What flexibility services can these buildings provide for markets other than Project LEO and what is the possible value to Oxford City Council?
- Are the current building equipment/control and metering adequate to provide flexibility and what investment would be required to optimise assets?
- What are the “best” sources of flexibility?
In addition to the above, Consortio Ltd were also asked to provide a recommendation about the technical upgrades that would be required to maximise the potential for flexibility in the buildings and the estimated cost for these.
What were the key findings of the learnings report?
The report sets out 21 key learnings from the experience of undergoing a flexibility assessment under the broad themes of flexibility quantification, asset enablement, market insights, financial considerations, and organisational and communication considerations.
Overall, it was established that each of the buildings assessed has the potential to offer energy flexibility in different ways. The ice rink’s potential was ranked lowest, but the buildings with swimming pools were seen as promising and each was able to unlock a minimum of 1 hour of flexibility to offer energy back to the grid at key times.
What was important in the findings, however, was that, although significant potential exists for these buildings, they currently do not have the technical or metering systems in place to deliver this as things stand. This knowledge is important to add to Project LEO’s evidence base on the challenges to organisations such as local councils (whose core business is not energy) in participating in energy markets.
The report concludes with five conclusions and recommendations.
- Quantify assets – to help non-energy-centric organisations such as councils to carry out energy flex assessments, it is recommended that the flexibility sector establish common and clear industry-recognised guidance, standards and methodologies for this.
- Enable assets – Further support is recommended with the costs required to upgrade existing systems (including automation) to enable them to take part in flexibility markets, through further grant funding, market mechanisms and commercial offerings.
- Provide appropriate market opportunities – Tailored routes into the energy flexibility market are needed to attract assets (buildings) common within the public sector with small-scale and dispersed flexibility and manual and slower dispatch processes.
- Quantify the value back to the flexibility provider The report recommended that more certainty on the value of flexibility is needed at present to build a robust business case for organisations working in a business-as-usual context (not part of a flexibility trial).
- Clearly communicate – It is recommended that third-party organisations and Distribution System Operators create a clear process tailored to Local Authorities and the public sector so that they can engage more easily with flexibility.
The case for third-party support
This report is of vital importance for Local Authorities across the UK to understand the steps they can take to undertake energy flexibility through their buildings and assets. It concludes that while there is massive potential for flexibility in public sector buildings (not just leisure facilities but also NHS sites, libraries or fire stations for example) the required initial assessment of buildings for flexibility can be challenging.
The report highlights a significant opportunity for third-party organisations to fill the gap in the market by offering services that assess buildings for their flexibility potential. This service offering would need to cover the multiple skills required to assess the potential, quantify the value and provide detailed guidance to Local Authorities on the systems needed to get their buildings flexibility-ready. Service offerings may also be required that cover the full end-to-end process on behalf of the public sector – including the assessment of assets, making flexibility-ready and operation of the assets in flexibility markets.
By bringing together the findings of the report Oxford City Council are now aware of the potential for flexibility within their buildings as well as the likely technical upgrades that would need to be investigated further to make this service a reality. By undertaking the assessment work with Consortio Ltd, and also through working on Project LEO as a project partner organisation, Oxford City Council has learned a significant amount about energy flexibility and its importance to achieving local net zero goals. The flexibility assessment work is expected to provide a stepping-stone to help unlock future opportunities for further developments in this area, for example through application for grant funding or other opportunities.
For them, and for other Local Authorities, this is a huge step forward in realising the value of energy flexibility from their assets to free up energy capacity and create monetary savings that can be used to create more public good.
For Project LEO, the report highlights the gaps in the energy flexibility marketplace and what steps are needed to enable Local Authorities to offer flexibility, working towards a carbon-balanced energy network for the future.
You can read the full report findings on the Project LEO website here.
16th March 2023