New forecast system to boost efficiency and reduce costs of solar energy

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have developed a forecasting system designed to boost energy generation from solar systems, which could boost the efficiency of the electricity system and help companies and households reduce costs.

The new forecasting tool is designed for electricity grid operators and energy generators and traders, and provides them with solar generation forecasts up to 72 hours in advance.

The tool has been created by Sheffield Solar, based in the Department of Physics at the University of Sheffield, to mitigate disruption placed onto grid networks by the growing prominence of intermittent solar systems.

The Government has been told to “act urgently” to deliver a more flexible power system to avoid “spiralling” costs from the integration of renewables. The fact that electricity generated by solar outstripped Britain’s ageing coal power stations for six months for the first time in 2016 adds to the necessity to account for differing levels of supply.

Solar impacts the balance of supply as it cannot be directly controlled. National Grid is calling on industrial, commercial and public-sector sites to participate in its Demand Turn-Up (DTU) service, which pays firms to increase energy demand at times when the country’s wind and solar resources are producing more energy than the system can cope with.

In fact, Sheffield Solar worked with the National Grid for two years to develop real-time generation estimates from solar photovoltaic systems in the UK, which has been used in the National Grid’s control room to balance supply and demand of new energy sources.

Planning ahead

Currently, uncertainty in forecasting solar increases the reliance for standby generators to provide additional reserve capacity, which adds a cost to managing the grid. If accurate forecasts can be issued ahead of time, the National grid and bill payers can cut these costs by reducing the amount of reserve from the generators.

The new service allows energy managers to plan ahead in deciding which generators are required throughout the day. The tool combines weather forecast data and data from live systems to forecast over a three-day period.

The tool is currently being trialled on the Solar Sheffield website, with automatic updates refreshed every 300 seconds. The group hopes to provide regional forecasts before establishing forecasts for individual systems across the UK.

While the forecasting system is in its infancy, businesses and energy generators can turn to storage to overcome intermittent generation. Earlier this month, the Government revealed that householders installing a storage system to integrate with a newly-purchased solar systems have will receive a reduced VAT of 5%.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie