By Joshua S Hill
UK electricity network operator UK Power Networks has announced it intends to launch London’s first ‘virtual power station’ using only domestic solar panels and Powervault batteries.
UK Power Networks, which supplies electricity to over 8 million homes and businesses across the South East and East of England, as well as the City of London, announced its plan to create a ‘virtual power station’ last week, intending to use solar panels and a fleet of batteries at approximately 40 homes across the London Borough of Barnet.
The theory is simple: There are already a lot of solar panels atop people’s roofs generating electricity. Adding batteries to the equation means that the generated electricity can be stored for use later on, when it’s dark or when the clouds come in. Generate enough electricity, however, and sometimes you simply won’t use it all, at which point it’s better to sell it back to the grid.
However, if you link a number of batteries together, a utility and electricity supplier such as UK Power Networks can instruct the group of batteries to discharge their stored electricity and relieve pressure on the electricity network in high demand situations such as during peak times, creating a ‘virtual power station’. Residents will sign a flexibility contract which will allow UK Power Networks to tap into their battery stored electricity, paying the residents for the privilege.
“We are committed to harnessing new technology to deliver direct benefits to our customers,” explained Barry Hatton, director of asset management at UK Power Networks.
“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.”
UK Power Networks’ new virtual power station comes off the back of a successful trial of the technology back in February of this year that made use of 45 Powervault batteries which were remotely controlled to minimize consumption during evening peak hours — a move which reduced household evening demand by around 60%.
Powervault will install 40 of its 8 kilowatt-hour (kWh) batteries and will be powered by either solar or off-peak electricity from the grid, using Powervault’s aggregation platform to optimize the system remotely. There is also the hope that the virtual power station could reduce the need for additional grid infrastructure.
“This is a really exciting development for our business, and we’re delighted UK Power Networks has chosen to work with us,” said Joe Warren, Managing Director of Powervault. “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.”
According to a spokesperson from UK Power Networks who spoke to me via email, the proposed Virtual Power Plant (VPP) will work “in such a manner that it optimises the responses from each individual home without compromising the supply of electricity” to each household participating in the network. Additionally, the company’s VPP is part of its “flexibility programme which is being rolled out across several network areas. Hence, whilst it builds on past trial projects, it is part of UK Power Networks’ business-as-usual arrangements to manage the electricity distribution system in a smart and efficient way.”
“UK Power Networks is in the process of rolling out the flexibility programme in a lot more areas across its network areas, including those in and around London,” the company’s spokeperson added in regards to future plans. “More specifically, UK Power Networks will be publishing its Flexibility Roadmap at the end of July. This will provide stakeholders with our vision for flexibility for the future. Additionally, at the of July we will publish an Expression of Interest with more areas where we can launch a similar service to the VPP.”