London’s first ‘virtual power station’ powered by domestic solar panels is to be launched
UK Power Networks will create the capital’s first ever ‘virtual power station’ powered solely by solar panels on the roofs of people’s homes. This technology supports the Mayor’s ambition to make London the world’s leading smart city.
Until now, domestic storage batteries have enabled residents to reduce their energy bills by storing surplus energy generated from solar panels. The creation of the virtual power station will mean that residents can now both save and earn money from their batteries.
The technology will mean that on days when there is particularly high demand for electricity, UK Power Networks will be able to instruct the batteries, through battery manufacturer and energy aggregator Powervault, to discharge in unison to relieve pressure on the electricity network at peak times. Local residents will receive a payment when their batteries discharge.
The new flexibility contract is the first time in London that people with solar panels and battery storage installed at home will be paid to support the distribution network in this way. The renewable energy generated by solar panels during the day can discharge from their batteries for a minimum of half an hour at a time in the evening and, in the future, could help to reduce the need for new network infrastructure, such as building substations and laying cables.
The fleet of batteries due to be installed in approximately 40 homes across the London Borough of Barnet will be remotely controlled to combine the output from domestic solar panels and ensure they are fully charged and ready for the weekday evening peak demand.
The shift to local renewable generation has transformed the UK’s energy system, and the virtual power plant is just one of a number of innovation projects giving customers greater control over their energy use. When UK Power Networks launched its vision for the future, ‘A Smart Grid for All’, last year, it described the transformation in energy as being similar to the impact the advent of broadband had on telecommunications in the early 2000s.
Barry Hatton, director of asset management at UK Power Networks said: “Our plans to create the capital’s first ever ‘virtual power station’ are paving the way for a smart, flexible electricity network that puts people in charge of their energy use.
“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. It will help to keep down electricity distribution costs by providing a viable alternative to the traditional approach of simply adding more cables and substations to increase capacity.”
The agreement follows a successful trial of the technology with UK Power Networks in February 2018. During the trial, 45 Powervault batteries installed in customer homes were remotely controlled to minimise consumption during evening peak hours. On average, household evening demand was reduced by 60%.
Joe Warren, managing director of Powervault, said: “This is a really exciting development for our business, and we’re delighted UK Power Networks has chosen to work with us. A payment for supporting the local networks, on top of the savings from solar and time-of-use tariffs, will enhance the business case for our customers, moving us a step closer to our goal of delivering a mass-market product as commonplace as a dishwasher. It also proves the value of domestic battery storage to the whole energy system. We think this contract is just the first step in what will be a huge growth area.”
Daniel Burgess, a resident who participated in UK Power Networks’ Domestic Energy Storage and Control (DESC) trial in February, said: “I’m really excited to be involved in this. If you think about it, in the UK we’ve got solar already installed on nearly a million households, and if everyone moves to having batteries that’s a massive change in how local power is supplied. So trials like this are essential for working out how we can maintain that supply and make sure everyone’s lights stay on.”