Plans for Britain's biggest smart-grid project launched
(19 October 2010)
Durham University is part of a bid which could test the impact of new low-carbon technologies on the electricity grid.
The plans for Britain's biggest "smart-grid project" which will involve 14,000 homes and businesses, test the impact of technologies such as electric cars and solar panels on the electricity grid and extend the learnings to whole of the UK using data from over 160,000 smart meters, have been unveiled today.
The £54 million project, a partnership between Durham University, CE Electric UK, British Gas, and EA Technology, aims to lay the foundations for helping British homes and businesses to cut their carbon footprint, reduce their energy use and save money on a mass scale.
If successful, the knowledge gained from the project could speed up the installation of low-carbon technology, potentially saving homes and businesses across the UK around £8 billion in energy costs and 43 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Durham University will play a dual role in the project by providing energy research, via the Durham Energy Institute, and as a participant in the planned trials.
Professor Phil Taylor, Durham Energy Institute, Durham University said:
"Durham University carries out internationally leading multidisciplinary energy research across 12 departments and also has an ambitious University sustainability strategy.
"This project presents a unique opportunity for the University to work with leading industry partners to translate cutting edge research into high impact outcomes for the UK energy sector and to transform the University campus into a low carbon networks demonstrator of international importance."
Today's electricity grid was not designed to cope with widespread use of technology like solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, where households can sell excess electricity back to the grid, or electric cars which consume large amounts of electricity.
With these technologies set to grow in popularity and solar panel sales hitting record numbers, it is vital that the electricity grid can evolve to withstand these extra demands. The project will trial innovative technical and commercial solutions to improve the capability of the electricity grid.
The plans will focus primarily on the North East and Yorkshire putting the region and major cities like Durham, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield, at the forefront of the UK's transition to a low-carbon society.
Smart meters, which enable households to monitor their energy usage, will be installed in homes and businesses participating in the project to gather the data. British Gas is leading the roll-out of smart meters across the UK which means that findings from the North East and Yorkshire can be tested in other parts of the country as part of the project.
The total project is valued at £54 million with CE Electric UK and its partners seeking £28 million from Ofgem's Low Carbon Networks Fund. If successful in obtaining funding from Ofgem, the project team plan to work with household names to test new technology on the electricity grid. Companies in discussion with the project consortium include GE, Panasonic and Nissan. Nissan, the manufacturer of the UK's first all-electric vehicle, has based manufacture of the Nissan Leaf - the all-electric family hatchback - at its Sunderland plant.
A range of technology will be installed as part of the project. It is expected that around 14,000 homes will have smart meters installed with approximately 800 also installing solar PV panels, 150 with electric cars and up to 1500 with either ground-source or air-source heat pumps. Some homes will also install combined heat and power boilers - boilers which create renewable electricity whilst they heat the home.
If Ofgem agrees to contribute to the project, work would begin in early 2011 with the technology installed later that year.
CE Electric UK, the power network operator for Yorkshire and the North East, will be leading the project. It will bring its experience of dealing with early adopters of low carbon technologies within its region and will be responsible for the trials of new network technology.
As the UK's largest energy supplier, British Gas will be responsible for recruiting and supporting customers involved in the trial. It will install smart meters in customers' homes to capture the data from the trial and will install other technologies such as solar panels and heat pumps.
EA Technology's role will be as technical lead in the deployment of new technology onto the distribution network, and in the transfer of successfully trialled solutions into business-as-usual for CE Electric and other similar organisations.