Innovate UK funding for study looking at Virtual Private Wire Networks

Siemens and University of Oxford partner to deliver research into energy management for the University campus

Feasibility study will pave the way for long term project to develop VPWN across campus and industrial locations in Oxford

Siemens and the University of Oxford have been awarded funding from Innovate UK to develop a feasibility study to assess the economic, social and environmental value of creating a Virtual Private Wire Network (VPWN) to centrally manage the energy use of a site with multiple locations and energy sources.

The feasibility study will focus on the University of Oxford estate which consumes about £1 million 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.

The current system uses a private wire network, where each building connects to a privately-owned micro-grid. A 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.

Universities have been set ambitious carbon reduction targets by the regulator. The University of Oxford has a target to reduce its CO2 by 33% on 2005 levels by 2020.

The study will look in detail areas such as:

  • How the energy services for individual buildings of the University including heating, cooling and electricity can be optimised and used as flexible energy load
  • Balancing energy needs by using technologies such as battery storage and renewable generation
  • Understanding how the University buildings across Oxford relate in terms of energy use and benefits of aggregated load flexibility
  • Using Siemens cloud-based MindSphere operating system to connect University buildings to create the virtual power wire network
  • A roadmap for the University of Oxford to implement the study’s findings

The project will run until March 2019.

The Department's Professor McCulloch says of the project, “Energy systems are becoming smarter and more local. This exciting project demonstrates the role buildings can play in emerging energy systems. It explores the value created without compromising the needs or the comfort of end users. We have put together a high-quality team to rigorously explore this complex question.

“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.”

Parth Mehta, Campus Lead, Siemens Distributed Energy Systems, said: “The UK’s energy infrastructure may need more than £300 billion investment to address the challenges of developing clean, secure and affordable energy and integrating decentralised energy systems.

“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.”

Joy Aloor, Head of Digital Grid, Siemens Energy Management, added:

"We are in the midst of an energy transformation driven by decarbonisation, electrification, decentralisation and digitalisation. The scientific community and industries have a big role to play to redefine regulatory paradigm, embrace new business models and deploy enabling infrastructure to achieve the objectives of this energy transformation.

“Siemens is glad to partner with the University of Oxford to undertake this research study which we believe will help us to take a step towards achieving this energy transformation."