Village solar trial aims to accelerate roll out

A village in South Yorkshire is to pilot a virtual power plant that could enable more homes to install solar panels in the future.

The initiative will see 40 Barnsley Council-owned properties in Oxspring use smart batteries to demonstrate how they can be used in clusters to increase capacity on the electricity network.

Northern Powergrid, battery firm Moixa and community energy company Energise Barnsley believe it is the first project of its kind.

It will study ‘how smart battery clusters reduce peak solar output onto the electricity networks when there is low local demand and save customers millions in the cost of running the UK’s power network’.

Andy Heald, director of Energise Barnsley, said the company had only been able to install solar PV on two in three homes in the area because of existing grid constraints.

The community energy company works with local authorities around the country to develop rooftop solar energy and owns the panels on the Oxspring homes.

‘Solar power is a key part of Barnsley Council’s plan to reduce high levels of fuel poverty in the region,’ he said.

‘Battery costs are falling rapidly and storage has huge potential to accelerate the national roll-out of solar and improve the lives of vulnerable people.’

He said solar was of particular benefit to elderly people who are at home and using electricity during the day, like many of the residents in the Oxspring trial. Some people are saving up to 50% on their energy bills and he believes batteries could take this as high as 80%.

Energy independence

Stephen Davis, director of assets, regeneration and construction, for Berneslai Homes, which manages homes in Oxspring on the local authority’s behalf, said: ‘We are keen to explore the savings potential that battery storage can bring to our tenants’ energy bills.

‘Our tenants face ever increasing energy costs from the energy suppliers they buy their electricity from and solar panels coupled with battery technology have the potential to ease some of that cost.’

The £250,000 trial will seek to demonstrate that the virtual power plant can reduce peak solar output onto the network sufficiently to enable panels to be installed on more homes using existing substations and cable networks, according to Moixa.

Chief executive Simon Daniel said: ‘Batteries will allow the electricity system to support much higher levels of low-carbon renewable power and increase UK energy independence. By managing clusters of home batteries in a virtual power plant and allowing homeowners to use more of their solar energy, thereby exporting less, we believe we can significantly reduce peak solar generation output onto the network. This will allow more homes to go solar without imposing new costs on network operators.

‘Solar homes with batteries can halve their electricity bills, and this solution will become increasingly popular as costs of storage and PV fall. We are working closely with Northern Powergrid and this project will deliver insights to develop incentives which we hope will allow us to roll out solar plus storage to tens of thousands of homes in their region, by creating a business case for homeowners to invest and also by increasing the number of solar connections allowed on each substation.’

Austin Macauley
Editor, Environment Journal


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