National Grid seeks more accurate solar data to refine power balancing act
The National Grid has enlisted the help of Sheffield University's solar research team to better understand how much power the UK's ever-growing array of solar panels is producing.
Currently, National Grid use weather information to estimate how much power solar systems are generating. But with margins now at a 10-year low, the network operator is looking for more precise data.
The Sheffield Solar research team operates the UK’s largest database of rooftop solar panels and is now working with the Grid to produce a tool which will use data from live systems to provide more accurate information.
Sheffield Solar business development manager Aldous Everard said: “The project is progressing well and we’re already publishing some preliminary results online.
“Our website also allows people to see our live generation feed showing how much power is being produced by solar in Britain every half-hour.
“The electricity system is separated into supply points. Eventually the tool will show how much is being produced at each of the National Grid’s main supply points, of which there are about 400 nationally.”
National Grid is responsible for balancing supply and demand of energy for the country. The company has half-hourly auctions to buy the required energy, but solar is an unknown quantity and so adds an unwelcome variable into the calculations.
To account for this, National Grid has to keep more capacity in reserve, in case demand suddenly drops or rises. Maintaining this reserve – usually from a gas or coal-fired plant – is expensive both financially and environmentally. Having a better understanding of solar outputs could allow National Grid to maintain a smaller reserve.
According to the latest figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), total solar PV capacity reached 8.4 GW in November, up from just 223 MW in 2011. This represents installs totalling 3.4 GW in the first 11 months of 2015, with another boom expected in the first quarter of 2016 before Feed-in Tariff cuts take effect.