- Osney Supercharge - trialling how communities can collaborate to create a smart, local energy system
At the heart of Project LEO are our Smart and Fair Neighbourhood trials, where we have been working within six communities to test a range of energy flexibility services, helping us to build the smarter, low-carbon, locally balanced energy systems we need to move towards our net-zero future. As our society shifts to using electric cars, and away from gas, we will see increased stress on the local electricity network, so we need to look at ways we can manage this.
We identified Osney Island (a riverside community in west Oxford) as an ideal neighbourhood we could work with and we recruited a group of households and businesses who agreed to generate and store their own electricity and share their data with us. One of the reasons we chose Osney for this trial was that it is home to a community-owned 50kW hydro generation scheme, with an associated 9kW solar installation and these energy-generating assets have been key to our trials.
We have called this project Osney Supercharge and over the past year we’ve been working with the trial participants to see how the community assets and household generation have been able to reduce demand on the local distribution network at various times of the day and year.
Our overall vision for communities like Osney is to create a decentralised local energy system where local clean energy generation from renewable sources is able to match local demand, where a community is working collectively to manage the generation and use of energy to benefit households, businesses, and the local network and help reach our net-zero goals.
To facilitate this we need to gather detailed insight into the local generation of electricity and demand patterns. Open access to data and smart technologies will be needed to balance supply and demand over time and the Osney Island trial is allowing us to see how this can work on a local scale.
For the requirements of the Project LEO Smart Fair Neighbourhoods trials, Osney Island was an ideal choice, this is because Osney had at the outset:
- A single secondary substation serving the whole island
- An ‘anchor generator’ in Osney Lock Hydro and its solar panels
- An engaged, very active community with some PV/batteries/heat pumps and electric vehicles already in place and lots of potential for new PV and storage to help us test the concept
- An engaged and very active City Council
- An engaged and very active Distribution Network Operator (SSEN) with monitoring equipment already installed in the secondary substation
- The Environment Agency is actively interested in installing large-scale battery storage
Project LEO asked for households and businesses in Osney to sign up to take part in the trial. Our participants had either existing solar panels, batteries or both or they had these installed for the trial. Participants agreed to share data with us on how much energy they generate and use throughout the day, using smart technology.
Currently, we have sixteen households and businesses on the island pooling data and this, combined with generation data from the hydro and the solar array gives us a great overall picture of this community’s ability to generate and store energy locally to meet its needs. In particular, we have been looking at how the demand for energy consumption can be met in different ways through a flexible combination of hydro and solar generation with battery storage to help meet the peaks in demand, minimising the amount of power we need to draw from the wider grid.
Another key element of the Osney trial is the introduction of a fully electric car to replace the existing hybrid car stationed in the car club space on the island. This is to encourage shared and sustainable transport and there will be an electric vehicle charging station installed in February 2023 to facilitate this. This will help provide further data from the community on how EV charging fits into the overall picture and the vision is for the full EV fleet in Osney to be charged by energy generated from the hydro.
It’s worthwhile to point out that the success of the trial is dependent on a number of elements working together and these are:
- The community-owned assets (hydro, solar assets and battery storage)
- The individually-owned assets (solar installations and batteries in homes and businesses)
- Trial participants (households signed up for the project)
- People’s Power Station 2 (PPS2) and smart data monitoring (technology that allows us to see the energy generation from all assets and usage from households at various times of the day and year)
How is the trial informing the future of smart local energy?
It’s all about the data – by using PPS2 we are able to create an overall picture of Osney’s energy generation and demand and break this down into a series of interactive dashboards that look at overall local energy generation, where it comes from at different times, how much of it is being used locally and if and when it is being exported to the local network.
We have developed PPS2, and the dashboards to display the key information that can come from integration of multiple data sources, through a strategic partnership with Fractal Networks R&D.
The dashboards also look at how battery storage and discharge are helping to relieve pressure on the local networks at peak demand times, storing up the energy generated by the hydro at times of lower demand to be used when the demand is high. By studying the data relayed by the dashboards, we can see how much energy the grid is supplying to local households and how much is being generated locally and this can inform how a community can use individual and community-owned assets flexibly to meet their overall energy demand.
What does the dashboard show?
We recently held 2 workshops with participants in the Osney Supercharge trial to look at the data the dashboard has generated and help them to understand how their participation is a vital part of the bigger picture for Osney energy.
We were encouraged by the enthusiasm of the participants and during the session, we looked at a number of scenarios to demonstrate how their energy use and generation are being monitored.
The images below show some of the dashboard views to help illustrate the data we are monitoring within the Osney Supercharge trial.
All screenshots from PPS2 were developed in partnership with Fractal Networks R&D.
The above graphic shows one of the dashboard views, which illustrates the local energy generation for Osney on the 20th December 2022. It is clear that the hydro station generated the bulk of the energy on a dull day, but it also shows how solar PV contributed during daylight hours. The gap in hydro generation on this particular day was likely due to a power-down period for clearing the trash screen which catches surface river debris.
This view from the dashboard shows the total overall energy demand and generation from the participants in Osney Supercharge on the same day. You can see that, for the most part, the demand can be met by the local generation, and this is mostly coming from the hydro.
This dashboard is incredibly interesting as it now shows how at times of low demand, the battery storage can be charged with renewable energy to be used at times of higher demand. This graph also shows the excess local energy generation that is being exported. This shows that there is potential for more local residents to get involved and benefit from the hydro and solar generation.
And here we see how the battery storage at the Osney Lock Hydro can be put into action at peak times to help reduce the strain on the grid. The battery stores the locally generated energy that would otherwise be exported to the wider grid so that it can be released for use by the local Osney residents at times of peak demand, for example, the period from 4 pm to 10pm.
Participants can also see how their own household generation contributes to the overall energy generated locally within the trial. There are many other views on the dashboard that households can access to help them gain a better understanding of how they can work collectively together with Osney Lock Hydro to optimise the carbon intensity of Osney Island’s consumption.
Importantly for households, this information can be used to inform them of the best times that they can switch on (or off) some of their high-energy appliances or electric vehicle charging. This type of real-time insight is at the core of how flexible energy usage can form part of a smarter low-carbon energy system.
Throughout the interactive workshops, we demonstrated the important steps the Osney Supercharge participants are making in helping to deliver the vision of replacing a centralised fossil fuel energy system with a decentralised energy system designed with and for the communities who are at the “Grid Edge” where power is both generated and consumed by households and businesses at the local level.
By discussing the data produced by the dashboard we demonstrated how Osney Island residents can now have visibility of what renewable energy is produced locally at various times of the year and day.
How can this data contribute to our energy systems of the future?
Of course, the Osney Island trial and the data produced is on a small scale, but it perfectly demonstrates how energy use and generation can be created and managed locally and at a household level, enabling us to minimise the need for supply from the grid.
We are also seeing how every household within the community can participate. Helping to balance the required energy import to Osney Island is as much about managing when households and businesses consume electricity and avoiding periods of drawing on the grid at times of high carbon intensity, as it is about maximising the total amount of local renewable energy. Therefore, even if some homes are unable to install their own solar panels or have the space to put in a battery they can still participate actively by optimising when they use electricity matching it to when there is the greatest local generation.
The results we are seeing at Osney are already providing us with vital insights into how our energy system can work more flexibly and by bringing all these elements together, we can map out how Smart Local Energy Systems can be created.
1st February 2023