In a pioneering move, hundreds of homes and businesses in Cornwall have begun selling electricity to their local energy network and the National energy system.
National Grid Electricity System operator (ESO) and Western Power Distribution have come together to trial a world first scheme, enabling homes and businesses in Cornwall to sell green energy back to the grid through Centrica’s Cornish Local Energy Market. One hundred homes and 150 businesses equipped with solar panels and batteries have been linked together to act as a virtual, mini power plant for the local energy network and National Grid ESO.
Old-style grids are not designed to move electricity from thousands of small power plants over short distances. Instead, electricity continues to be fed over long distances to central points in the grid, then fed out again.
Curious anomalies can be a consequence of this. Many wind farms around the country, have been forced to reduce their power output because of an excess of energy on the grid due to strong winds and low demand at the same time as major energy consumers including nearby factories have no way of accessing that extra electricity.
The rise of renewable energy and the inability of existing power grids to move energy around efficiently has created the need for schemes like the Cornwall Local Energy Market.
Being able to store and move electricity at a far more local level can help smooth out supply and demand, and address many of the problems caused by the intermittent nature of renewable electricity generation.
It is the first time that traditional energy users such as homes, hotels and businesses have operated as suppliers in a microcosm of a full energy system.
Pieter-Jan Mermans, a director at Centrica Business Solutions, described the trial as “a milestone moment for the energy network” after years of research.
“Improving grid flexibility benefits everyone from generators to consumers, and these trials represent a major step forward. We are hugely grateful to the householders and businesses across Cornwall who have embraced this trial with open arms.”
The homes that are taking part in this trial alongside 150 local businesses are prepared to adjust how much energy they use depending on the balance of energy supply and demand on the grid. If wind and solar power output drops the companies can choose to use less electricity in exchange for a payment from National Grid, or if the local grid has more electricity than it needs the companies can ramp up their energy demand. During sunny times when homes generate more than enough electricity from solar panels, they can store the power to use later, or supply the energy system with clean extra power in return for payment.
By storing energy, homes and businesses can be more flexible in their energy use, reducing it when demand is high in return for payment and increasing it when excess supply is available. This helps National Grid ESO to balance the UK’s energy network.
National Grid is already offering to pay firms that own utility-scale batteries to provide a similar service but the difference here is that this trial is the first time that companies can take part in the same ‘Local Energy Market’ as the network operator. This market was designed by energy giant Centrica and based on the same system used to balance energy markets across Europe. The energy companies are of the opinion that the trial could help build a nationwide chain of flexible smart grids built around clean energy.
Colm Murphy, an Electricity Market Change Development Manager at National Grid, said:
“Exploring the provision of flexibility through a local energy market is a first for us. The potential is really exciting as we look to unlock more flexible energy resources in the market, and greater cost benefits to consumers.”
One local Cornish business, The Cornish Ice Company, is using its industrial freezers to act as a battery for the grid. The company can easily cut electricity to its freezers for short periods without affecting temperatures, meaning it can offer spare electricity to either the local grid or the national system operator.
Colm Murphy, also said:
“As we move towards our 2025 ambition of being able to operate the British electricity system carbon free, we are seeing more renewable generation come online, such as wind and solar which requires increased flexibility to balance the grid. Initiatives such as the Cornwall scheme help us deliver secure, sustainable and affordable electricity – softening peaks in demand and filling in the troughs, especially at times when more power is available. And it’s cleaner too. Even though we’re in the early stages of the trial, we’re looking forward to evaluating the results.”
This Cornish project is just part of National Grid ESOs push to engage in more intelligent use of energy and technology. Demand Side response (DSR) is another example of their engagement which helps businesses increase, decrease or shift their electricity use to help balance the electricity system. Financial incentives are given to businesses to encourage them to manage their energy more flexibly which at the same time also helps them to reduce their carbon footprint and plays a part in helping the UK transition to a low carbon energy system.
The Cornwall trial is set to lead the way to what could become a nationwide network of flexible smart grids providing clean energy to help Britain reach its target to become a carbon net zero economy by 2050.
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