Grant to tackle future energy challenges

A PROJECT led by technology innovation firm the Advanced Digital Institute to explore the development of the “next generation” of virtual power plants has won £100,000-worth of funding.

The centrally-controlled plants will use clusters of combined heat and power (CHP) systems – small-scale generaating capabilities at locations such as hospitals and business parks – to bolster supply when they are not operating at capacity. The idea is that this will help to meet peaks in energy demand.

Saltaire-based ADI, which turns over in the region of £1m and employs 12 staff, aims to help digital technology companies innovate.

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The match-funded grant from the Technology Strategy Board, the Government’s innovation agency, has been awarded to a consortium set up by ADI, which also includes industry partners ENER-G, Flexitricity, Smarter Grid Solutions and UK Power Networks.

John Eaglesham, chief executive of ADI, which is project managing the initiative, said: “It is a very exciting time for ADI to work with some of the UK’s key smart grid industry players in addressing the challenge of future energy supply.

“While shoring up electricity supplies, the project will also examine new solutions for low carbon, low cost heat distribution. This could incentivise the UK CHP industry to provide more CHPs in areas where current UK Government incentives have fallen short.”

David Harson, programme manager at ADI, added: “It’s a new business area for us and we haven’t previously done any research in this area so it’s quite exciting for us in that context.”

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The feasibility study, scheduled for completion in May 2013, will try to find new ways of “increasing the overall security and efficiency of the electricity system, and decarbonising energy supplies across the UK as demand increases”, said ADI.

Mr Harson said: “These assets are around, they exist now anyway, so if you can tap into those and use them, use that capacity, then you don’t have to invest in other carbon-generating capacities to meet the demands.”

He added that by including a large number of smaller-scale CHP generators into a virtual power plant, the aim is to achieve “improved flexibility and greater load-balancing potential to improve resilience of supply, and potentially reduce the need to large utility projects”.

ADI, whose customers range from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to corporates, used to receive public sector funding from Yorkshire Forward up until 2010.

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Mr Harson said: “Business is good. We are operating independently of any of that type of grant money. The Technology Strategy Board is a key partner for us and they fund specific projects, as well as doing commercial work with other customers.”

Chris Marsland, technical director at ENER-G, said: “This project will investigate the feasibility of using networks of CHP generators to complement and reduce the need for reinforcement of the electricity network. The benefits could include greater use of clean electricity supplies, reduced domestic heating costs and less need for electricity infrastructure investments.

“This will benefit the industry and consumers alike, while reducing carbon emissions.”

The project will perform business and technical modelling based on data from UK Power Networks’ London electricity network, using ENER-G CHP generators and software and a central control system provided by Smarter Grid Solutions.

UK Power Networks is leading Low Carbon London, a £30m programme, largely funded by Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund, to help develop smart electricity networks in Britain.

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