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Two minutes with… Oliver McMillen, Virtual Power Plant Director at SSE

Category : Future of energy

We speak to Oliver McMillen about the SSE Virtual Power Plant and why the requirement for energy flexibility is set to grow in the next few years. Plus, find out what he’d do first if he ruled the world.

Can you briefly explain what energy flexibility is, and why it is important?

At its simplest, flexibility is the ability to turn something that uses or generates electricity up or down. The quicker you can do this, and the longer you can maintain the adjustment for, the more flexible you are.

Flexibility already has value – there are a number of ways to earn additional revenue through being flexible – and we think the requirement for flexibility within the energy system is going to grow over the coming years.

Can you tell us about the SSE Virtual Power Plant (VPP)?

With the SSE VPP, we find ways of monetising our customers’ flexibility, without compromising their core operations. In practice, this means looking at what type of flexibility a customer has and working out which revenue streams are available to them, then managing the customer’s flexibility in a way that allows them to achieve the highest possible return.

Crucially, we don’t just use the flexibility however we want – rather, we base everything on the operating restrictions agreed with the customer.

How does the VPP benefit businesses?

Our customers range from Industrial & Commercial customers, to energy asset owners and developers. For our I&C customers it provides them with an additional revenue stream, without impacting their core operations or compromising the integrity of their infrastructure. For asset owners and developers, we can provide them with a route to market, allowing them to generate as much revenue as possible from their assets.

What do you see happening in the energy flexibility space in the next five years?

We’re seeing increasing volumes of low carbon generation, including those from the first Contract for Difference offshore wind projects, come online. This should increase the requirement for flexibility, just as older thermal power stations – which have historically provided this through the traditional network – are closing. As a result, we’d expect to see the requirement for flexibility solidifying and, over time, growing.

Also, the changes in the way National Grid procures its services are partly designed to encourage a greater range of flexible assets to participate in these schemes. And the move from Distributed Network Operators (DNOs) to Distributed System Operators (DSOs) should start to create local opportunities for flexibility. All this suggests we will continue to see opportunities over the next few years.

What does your role at SSE entail on a day-to-day basis?

It’s pretty varied so I wouldn’t say there’s a typical day. However, most weeks will involve sales, operations – which includes how we deliver a positive VPP customer experience – commercial analysis, product development, and looking at new ways the VPP can be used within different parts of our business.

Let’s find out more about your life outside energy flexibility. What column or website do you read every day?

I listen to The Economist’s news podcast most days – great insight into, and interesting angles on, what’s happening at home and around the world.

What would you do first if you ruled the world?

Probably the obvious answer, but a workable solution to climate change would have to be the first thing on the to-do-list.

What would you spend a £10,000 windfall on?

A six-month sabbatical trip through South America.

And finally, what advice would you give your 16-year-old self?

Take more risks and don’t sweat the small stuff too much.

To learn more about the SSE Virtual Power Plant service (VPP), you can get in touch with Oliver.


Oliver McMillen

SSE Virtual Power Plant Director

Oliver is responsible for the development and delivery of Virtual Power Plant and Demand Side Response (DSR) related activity within SSE. As part of his role, Oliver works closely with external partners and colleagues to explore new products and services SSE could deliver using the VPP capability. He previously led the Corporate Affairs support – covering policy development, advocacy, and communications – for SSE’s Wholesale business.
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