UK Power Networks to host UK’s first ‘virtual’ solar power station
The UK's largest electricity distributor has unveiled its plan to create the nation's first "virtual" solar power station by the end of the year, using PV panels on the rooftops of its London customers' homes.
The technology, which combines an array of solar panels with domestic storage batteries, will be remotely controlled by UK Power Networks (UKPN), enabling the firm to discharge the batteries in unison during periods of high electricity demand.
Around 40 homes in the north London borough of Barnet will be fitted with the equipment by the end of this summer and will receive a payment when batteries are discharged. It follows a successful trial of the technology at 45 homes in February, which saw household energy demand drop by an average of 60% each evening.
UKPN’s director of asset management, Barry Hatton, said the power station will lower energy distribution costs by “providing a viable alternative to the traditional approach of simply adding more cables and substations to increase capacity”.
“London is a world-leader in technology and projects like this are just the start as we move towards a decarbonised, decentralised and digitised network that will offer significant benefits to our customers,” Hatton added.
The scheme, created by UKPN in the wake of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s commitment to make the capital the world’s “leading smart city”, was created through collaboration with battery manufacturer and energy aggregator Powervault, which supplied the batteries.
The move from UKPN, which delivers electricity to eight million homes and businesses in London, the East and South East, comes in the same month that Google announced it will roll out its Project Sunroof scheme in the UK, informing households how well a rooftop solar array would perform and how much money could be saved on electricity bills as a result.
A string of big-name businesses such a Whitbread and Samsung have also made recent commitments to expand their use of onsite renewable generation.
Many of these corporations, including Carlsberg, Landsec and Marks and Spencer (M&S), are also exploring battery storage options to increase energy resilience and create cost benefits by providing services to the grid, with UKPN hoping to create the same benefits for members of the general public.
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This will be an interesting one to watch to see how well the system copes with a prolonged period of miserable weather. By this I mean a week of fog, or rain or even just heavy overcast conditions where the solar panels are not able to generate to their full capacity. Will the batteries be able to recharge during the day? Particularly in winter when demand on the system is likely to be higher.
From my experience with a 12v system on a boat (164w panel charging a 280amp-hr battery through a 20a MPPT regulator) any shade from a cloud drastically reduces the charging current (from around 12amps to less than 1amp) and on a cloudy day it is not possible for the panels to pump in enough amps to balance the drain.
Time will tell how this works and how effective it is. It might also help people like me decide if the investment is truly cost effective as here in the Scottish Highlands I’m still not convinced we are able to generate enough given our weather.