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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute

Financing the Low Carbon Economy: Putting power back in the hands of households

Durham is leading on innovations to make our energy system flexible enough and safe enough so that future households (i.e. prosumers both producing and consuming energy) can begin to trade the energy they generate with each other as well as to the national grid. This work will help to put power back in the hands of households, ensuring they receive a higher price for selling their energy than that of feed-in tariff and ensuring our national grid is able to respond to changes in energy demand thereby avoiding blackouts or shortages.

The UK's electricity networks are serving millions of people everyday but now are facing a challenging future, with ageing infrastructure but increasing penetration of Renewable Energy Sources (RESs). The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) has approved plans to spend £17bn for upgrading the UK's electricity networks till 2023 by using smarter technologies. As one of the most promising solutions, smart grid has attracted much attention, since it is capable of enabling bidirectional flows of energy and communications in the power grid infrastructure, that is crucial in improving the reliability, security, and efficiency of the electric systems and keeping the lights on at minimum cost to consumers.

The Durham University-led TOPMOST project (EPSRC EP/P005950/1) is developing technology which enables distributed generation at the household and community level to be aggregated in a way which will mean it becomes an alternative to fossil fuelled power plants. Up until now discussions around renewables generation, especially at the local level, have highlighted the continued need for traditional Nuclear energy or fossil fuel plants to provide a stable baseload of energy due to unpredictability or fluctuation in generation levels of renewables. However TOPMOST is enabling a new future where local level renewable and sustainable energy generation can provide this stability and certainty. In this project Dr Hongjian Sun, working with project partners Sunamp Limited (an innovation leader in the field of Thermal Storage) and Intel Corporation Ltd (the computing and smart technology innovators), will be focused on developing the key smart grid application, Virtual Power Plant (VPP). This is designed to aggregate the capacity of many diverse distributed energy resources (DERs) and flexible demands to create a single operating profile - the single "virtual power plant" which will help balance supply and demand in real time.

This research will provide better understanding of the systems used by the VPP and will develop more advanced methods in the design of VPP, and implement a hardware testbed in Durham Smart Grid Laboratory.

This research will help to:

  • make renewables a more viable alternative to fossil fuels power plants
  • engage with communities to accelerate uptake of renewable energy generation
  • reduce the costs of energy for consumers
  • improve operational efficiency of power grids

Durham is also engaged in research developing electrical and thermal storage which will support this virtual power plant, through Innovate UK funded project “Electrical and thermal storage optimisation in a virtual power plant” (ref. 132934), led by Sussex, working with Moixa, Sunamp and UK Power Networks, Optimising battery storage at the household level so that energy generated can be stored in times of high generation and either used by the household or sold at times when it is most effective. Combining solar generation with energy storage to maximise the benefit of both. This means that households will be able to decide when to use their generated energy or when to sell if back to the grid at times of high demand, giving people more choice and lower energy bills.

This research will mean:

  • That households will be able to use more of the energy they generate and lower their energy bills
  • That households will be able to store their generated energy until they choose to use it or sell it back to the grid at favourable tariff times.