Virtual power plants and ‘super hubs’: Four smart UK energy systems projects launched by Claire Perry

Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry has today (3 April) launched four smart energy systems demonstrator projects across the UK, in a bid to help towns and cities become "hubs" to spur the low-carbon transition across the electricity, heat, cooling and transport sectors.

Virtual power plants and ‘super hubs’: Four smart UK  energy systems projects launched by Claire Perry

Illustration of Pivot Power’s consented Southampton battery project

The first of the schemes is an “Energy Superhub” in Oxford, which will play host to the world’s first transmission-connected 50MW lithium ion and redox-flow hybrid battery systems as well as a network of 320 ground-source heat pumps.

The electricity and energy from the facility will be used to heat and power around 300 social homes, with Cloud software and Artificial Intelligence (AI) set to be used to help the facility optimise demand and supply. It is estimated that each property powered by the hub will see a 25% reduction in its annual energy demand.

Also in Oxford, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks will work to install around 90 small-scale low-carbon energy projects, which will be connected under a distribution System Operator approach to form a “local energy marketplace”. The network will enable peer-to-peer energy trading among participants and aims to “unlock” flexibility across the City-region.

The other two new projects are a Virtual Energy System (VES) in Orkney, which aims to interlink local electricity, transport and heat networks into one system, thereby optimising efficiency and lowering emissions, and a virtual power plant which will be used to manage energy across council housing, private residential properties, transport infrastructure and commercial properties in West Sussex.

“We are at the start of a green revolution, as we move to more digital, data-driven smart systems that will bring us cleaner and cheaper energy,” Perry said.

“These projects, backed by Government funding, are set to spark a transformation and change the way we interact with energy for the better as part of our modern Industrial Strategy.

“We’re excited to see how these businesses and project partners reveal how innovative technology, such as energy storage, heat networks and electric vehicles (EVs), can set us on the path to a smarter energy future.”

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

The four projects are all set to launch by mid-2020 and are being funded under UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) £102.5m Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

In order to have received a share of the fund, which is awarded on a competitive basis, each of the projects will have had to prove that their concept could be replicated, upscaled and invested in by the end of the 2020s. Fund applicants are also asked to prove that their concept is aligned with the idea of a “just” low-carbon transition, providing not only cleaner power and more desirable services but also cost reductions and more “prosperity and resilience” to local communities.

Perry recently said that she and her team of policymakers would only follow advice which would not exclude entire regions or social classes from the drive to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, against a 1990 baseline. This target may soon be raised to “net-zero” by 2050, following advice which is currently being developed by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC)  in light of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report on global warming.

Each of the new projects is being spearheaded by a private sector organisation with a specialism in its field, as well as a consortium consisting of other privately owned firms, local authorities and NGOs.

The “Energy Superhub” in Oxford is being led by battery storage firm Pivot Power, which made headlines last year for schemes such as its battery array at Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium and its grid-scale rapid charging network for electric vehicles (EVs), connected at the transmission system level. The other Oxford-based scheme, dubbed Project LEO, will be spearheaded by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, while the European Marine Energy Centre and deep Cloud experts Cloud Infinity Projects will lead the Orkney and West Sussex programmes respectively.

Sarah George

Comments (4)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    To be clever with the distribution of electricity, it has first to be generated, but Government policies are in total disarray.

    It then has to be distributed, a whole technology in itself.

    Only then can the talking shop chatter about virtual power plants (?) and "super hubs". From the article I have still have very idea of what, exactly, they are. And I have the impression that they are little more than paper giants.

    Nowhere can I find the cool hand of the experienced Chartered Electrical Engineer.

    Richard Phillips

  2. Ben Burton says:

    Looks like another government pink elephant project. Id love to see the due diligent report into the viability of these claims. This is much like the Tesla battery in South Australia, can only run everyone’s TV for 30mins before going flat.
    Battery storage will need 2.5x the renewable generation and storage capacity to even come close to taking up the UK’s demand.

    Essentially a recouping revenue streams for the struggling energy generators as they want the power price to increase through the perceived energy crisis that the Green parties have created.

  3. Richard Phillips says:

    Absolutely right, Ben. All these schemes are devices to make money. They sound wonderful to the totally uninitiated. We have to remember that we have never had a Minister, with responsibility for energy, who has any career involving the essential physical sciences. A degree in classics or economics, does not tell the holder much about electricity generation. But politicians have to appear all knowledgeable, and businessmen must make money.

    The huge Li-ion battery at Swindon will be 50MW, 50MWh, one twentieth of a normal power station for one hour, cost ~£25 million. Just scale it up!

    Renewable energy is so unreliable, and the ancillary systems to make it compatible with demand-lead generation, that the costs have to be hidden; just lumped into your bill, un-itemised.

    And we do not have a satisfactory explanation for the vaunted importance of CO2 on global warming. A lot of jumping, shouting and waving of flags by schoolchildren, who know it all, of course.

    O for sanity!

    Richard Phillips

  4. Ben Burton says:

    Spot on, these think tanks amount to nothing more than w@$k tanks of business mans hopes and dreams.
    We need actual people of common sense and a robust time spent in electrical engineering industry to even comment on these initiatives or even grasp the concepts of energy systems.
    All I’ve seen is my companies power bills increase by 30% in the last 4 years but the whole sale price is falling.
    These taxes are going where I ask the Government ?


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