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A WATER company is helping keep the UK’s lights shining by getting super smart with its own power use in Bolton.

United Utilities is the first company in the North West and the first water firm in the country to sign-up for ‘Dynamic Demand’ – an innovative quick-fire way of switching power-hungry equipment off and on in response to changes in electricity supply and demand nationally.

The system acts like a “virtual power station”, allowing National Grid to even out temporary peaks and troughs in demand instead of turning power stations up and down.

A smart box installed at United Utilities’ wastewater treatment plant at Bolton allows the process equipment to “talk” to the grid.

Motors and pumps can be turned on and off in seconds in response to variations in power frequency.

Andy Pennick, energy manager at United Utilities, said: “Water and wastewater treatment is a really energy intensive process — power is one of our biggest operating costs — so we’re looking both inside and outside our business to see how we can work smarter. That means using less power and being willing to be flexible in the way we use that power.”

Traditionally generation has been adjusted, minute by minute, to meet demand for power, with gas fired power stations kicking in whenever there was a surge in demand. From next year some of gas fired power stations will be decommissioned and the UK is increasingly moving towards intermittent renewable energy like wind farms.

Dynamic Demand adjusts demand to meet the power available.

Large energy users, like water companies, can identify which items of equipment are not time-sensitive in their operation. This equipment can then respond within agreed parameters to provide a service to National Grid.

Mr Pennick said: “In effect, we’ve become like a virtual power station. When everyone gets up after watching the Great British Bake Off to switch the kettle on, some of our pumps go off automatically to free up the power. That might only be for a few minutes, then they can restart again. We have a lot of tanks and water storage within our processes, so we can be flexible about precisely when we use our pumps. The lower operating costs are good news for our customers.”

Open Energi is the company behind ‘Dynamic Demand’ and it predicts the UK value of the demand balancing market for large energy users will be about £1 billion by the year 2020.