Innovative research project aims to support greater local integration of Solar PV

Increasing levels of solar PV are having a growing impact on the operation of the low voltage (LV) network. The need for new grid connections has impacted project viability and in some areas of the country Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) have been forced to limit new solar integration. However, new technologies are introducing ways to make smarter use of the abundant free energy provided by the sun and deliver new revenue streams, without the need for costly infrastructure upgrades.

Funded by Innovate UK, this innovative research project aims to support greater solar PV integration, by forecasting solar output in near-time with better accuracy, and enabling generation to interact dynamically with demand.

In the South West of England, where these challenges are particularly acute due to a constrained network, Meniscus Systems, BRE National Solar Centre, Cornwall Council and Open Energi are collaborating to create short-interval (every 5 minutes), location-specific solar intensity and power predictions that will improve local grid operation, optimise the performance of solar farms and enable operators to participate in Demand Side Response (DSR) schemes to maximise revenue, with or without energy storage.

Cornwall has the fewest grid interconnections with the largest solar PV installed capacity – over 475MW of large-scale (1MW+) solar farms – leading to network operating problems. Resulting constraints imposed by the DNO make it harder to connect large scale renewable generation. The ability to better predict and manage the performance of solar PV on the LV network is an important step towards the creation of local energy markets, and will help to ensure that Cornwall’s residents, communities and local economy benefit from the low carbon energy transition.

The project will make use of:

  • Real-time and historic satellite based imagery to predict solar intensity for any location at intervals of 5 minutes on an hour ahead basis.
  • Historic and near real-time PV data from the Cornwall Council solar farm at Cornwall Airport Newquay (CAN) to test and demonstrate the system and explore the role of on-site battery storage.
  • Open Energi’s expertise to deliver accurate, real-time PV-based DSR solutions to DNOs and owner/operators of solar farms to more efficiently manage local networks.

Accurately modelling the commercial benefits of solar PV and battery storage will be an important aspect of the project. If predicted solar generation is higher than the export limit of the site, a battery can be charged instead of curtailing generation, discharged to grid during a later period of high demand, and in the meantime the battery can be employed for DSR. For a site with no installed storage, generation can be curtailed at times when the network is constrained in response to DSR signals, such as Demand Turn-Up. Accurate predictions allow the DNO or Transmission System Operator (National Grid) to efficiently manage their network

With the UK’s solar capacity forecast to rise to 15.7GW by 2020 – from just over 9.3GW at present – using advanced technology to more efficiently integrate and optimise solar PV sites is vital to create a more sustainable energy future. Due for completion in early 2019, this project aims to pave the way for the smarter use of solar PV via peer-to-peer energy markets that benefit local communities, delivering a smarter, more flexible energy system across the UK.

The lead Project Team comprise:

  • Meniscus Systems – Project Lead and delivery of solar intensity predictions in a form that will allow integration with the DSR market.
  • Cornwall Council – owner/operator of solar farm which will be used to test and demonstrate the system.
  • BRE National Solar Centre – responsible for ensuring the system meets the requirements of the PV industry and validating the system’s performance.
  • Open Energi – DSR aggregator responsible for identifying DSR revenue opportunities and systems needed to deliver this capability.

For more details, please get in touch.

Robyn Lucas is Head of Data Science, Open Energi

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