Virtual power plant trial in Yorkshire hailed a success

A two-year project in which combined solar and battery storage arrays across Yorkshire homes were used as a virtual power plant (VPP) has proven a success, both in terms of grid decarbonisation and lowering energy bills.

The model enabled at least 25% more renewable energy to be utilised at peak times. Image: Greenhouse PR

The model enabled at least 25% more renewable energy to be utilised at peak times. Image: Greenhouse PR

Spearheaded by Northern Powergrid, the two-year pilot project saw smart battery storage units manufactured by Moixa supplied to 40 community homes across Oxspring, Barnsley. The batteries were connected to 27 sets of rooftop solar panels. Both the batteries and the solar technology were supplied at no cost to residents.

The batteries were connected to Gridshare - software which uses artificial intelligence to respond to signals such as network demand, energy prices, real-time solar generation outputs, weather forecasts and user behaviour. This enables them to automatically recharge and discharge at the optimum times to deliver flexibility to the grid.

Northern Powergrid has this week published the results of the project, with a headline finding that batteries enabled at least 25% more renewable energy to be utilised at peak times.

This is because they help overcome the intermittency of renewable generation. Domestic solar arrays in the UK typically reach peak generation at around lunchtime, but domestic energy demands are typically low at this time of day, especially on weekdays. Without batteries, intermittency of this kind can increase pressure on some areas of the local power network, Northern Powergrid found, with its VPP model reducing that pressure by one-fifth.

Away from environmental benefits, the trial also realised a £60 reduction in the annual electricity bill for each household.

With rising energy prices and the UK Government’s net-zero target in mind, Northern Powergrid is calling on Government incentives for housebuilders, homeowners, landlords and businesses suitable for hosting smaller-scale energy storage arrays and onsite renewables.

“Intelligently managing our energy networks is essential when it comes to achieving UK environmental goals,” Northern Powergrid’s policy and markets director Patrick Erwin said.

“Following the findings of this trial, we would like to see the UK Government and energy regulators consider the role of storage in network management in more detail, potentially offering financial incentives to stimulate the market in areas where storage can deliver social as well as system benefits.”

Away from Yorkshire, VPP projects involving Moixa batteries are currently underway in locations such as Ireland and West Sussex.

Policy overhaul

Northern Powergrid’s call to action comes in the same week that the UK Government reversed its decision to effectively ban energy storage from competing in the Contracts for Difference (CfD) rounds.

The changes, made in light of the 2050 net-zero target, will enable grid-scale energy storage projects – as well as co-located onshore wind and solar arrays - to bid in the 2021 CfD round.

The U-turn comes after Ministers consulted last year on alterations to national planning policy around energy storage and renewables. Prior to the consultations, large-scale storage projects with a capacity of 50MW or more were required to pass through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime. Now, they can be processed through local planning frameworks, along with smaller developments.

With regards to small solar and battery arrays at UK homes and businesses, Ministers confirmed last summer that the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG),  its replacement initiative for the Feed-in Tariff (FiTs), will ensure that users will be paid for electricity they send to the grid. This policy certainty is expected to result in higher levels of uptake, but many green groups would like further policy supports to ensure the speed and breadth of battery uptake is sufficient to support a net-zero electricity sector.

Sarah George



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