City of dreaming wires: Siemens and Oxford Uni to explore virtual power network

Engineers from Siemens and the University of Oxford are to jointly explore the potential of creating a virtual power network to centrally manage the energy across the university’s multiple locations.

virtual power network

The Innovate UK funded feasibility study will focus on the University of Oxford estate which consumes about £1m of energy each month. Unlike some universities, its facilities are spread across the city, with each of its 400 buildings controlling its own energy usage. This leads to inefficiencies and reduces the ability to implement estate-wide carbon reduction measures. Indeed, the University of Oxford has the fourth highest emissions of all UK universities and has a target to reduce its CO2 by 2020.

The current system uses a private wire network, where each building connects to a privately-owned micro-grid. A so-called Virtual Private Wire Network (VPWN) would help businesses connect multi-site assets, for example battery storage and on-site generation capabilities with demand behind a single metering point. It would also mean renewable technology and storage could be more easily integrated across an estate in the future.

This would join up all the University’s different buildings and allow them to be connected to Siemens’ Internet of Things operating software, MindSphere. Once connected, data analysis will be possible to manage energy usage and implement efficiency measures to reduce carbon emissions.

The study, which will run until March 2019, will look at factors such as how the energy services for individual buildings can be optimised and used as flexible energy load, and how energy needs could be balanced using technologies such as battery storage and renewable generation.

Parth Mehta, Campus Lead, Siemens Distributed Energy Systems, said: “The development of decentralised energy provides huge opportunities for universities and industrial facilities to become self-sufficient, however, large organisations cannot easily coordinate different types of energy storage and generation across multiple sites.

“This innovative study is just the start and will prove that a virtual private wire network has the dual benefits of reducing the cost of balancing supply and demand with reduction in carbon emissions and service reliability.”

Professor Malcolm McCulloch, Department of Engineering Sciences, University of Oxford, added that the lessons learned from the project could have significance way beyond the city. “The impact will have international importance as we move to decarbonise electricity heating and cooling systems in buildings, while delivering flexibility services to the local and national grid infrastructure,” he said.

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