- Our Energy Asset Trials - an update
Project LEO – Local Energy Oxfordshire – is described as an ambitious and innovative energy trial that seeks to accelerate our transition to a low-carbon energy system. But in reality, Project LEO is actually made up of numerous trials, each designed to build knowledge and evidence to inform our smart and flexible energy systems of the future.
The trials fall under two main categories: Place Based Trials, which are exploring how communities can become ‘Smart and Fair Neighbourhoods” and Energy Asset Trials, which are exploring the potential of various energy assets to deliver flexible energy. Here, we’re taking a closer look at our Energy Asset Trials, what they’re hoping to achieve and giving you a few updates on our progress and findings.
What are ‘energy assets’?
Let’s start by defining energy assets. These can be things that generate energy like solar panels and wind turbines or they can be forms of energy storage such as batteries. Energy assets can even be places that consume energy but are able to turn their demand up or down dependent on need.
It’s important for us to test and monitor these assets in our trials to find out how they can behave flexibly and form part of a smart and local clean energy system. We run trials to establish things like the technical requirements that assets need to work within such systems, the associated costs, what multiple system integrations are required and understanding the level of communication and contracts between flexible energy providers and network operators to ensure the systems are viable.
How do Energy Asset Trials work?
Each trial we undertake works differently and is designed to provide its own set of insights. At Project LEO, we use the Minimum Viable System (MVS) trial approach. This small-scale approach to testing various elements of asset usage enables us to be agile in our methodology. The results and learning gathered will inform the future development of larger-scale flexible energy systems and associated assets.
In this way, we can utilise the minimum set of participants and processes needed for each individual trial, so the findings can be achieved at a small, quick scale, before any significant investment in time, money and user relations are committed.
What have our Energy Asset Trials achieved?
Project LEO has run a variety of Energy Asset Trials since its inception, each of which provides insights and learnings into various aspects of flexible energy supply services. We’re continuously reporting back on the efficiency and findings of the trials and here are a few updates of our findings so far.
Oxford Bus Company depot battery
The Oxford Bus Company (OBC) operates a local bus fleet consisting of around 120 vehicles, over half of which are electric-hybrid buses. This makes it one of the greenest bus companies in the UK. In 2013, a photovoltaic (PV) solar array was installed on the roof of their Cowley depot by Low Carbon Hub and this allows them to benefit from low cost, renewable energy for charging their fleet.
In order to maximise the use of the energy from the solar array to charge their fleet of buses, OBC installed two batteries at the Cowley Depot. This energy storage combined with the solar energy generation provided their existing solar PV array (installed and managed by Low Carbon Hub back in 2013) with a great opportunity to trial and examine electricity storage as part of a local flexibility market.
As part of the trial, Low Carbon Hub worked with the battery manufacturers (OffGrid Energy) to reprogramme the batteries to allow them to be controlled remotely from a sub-station. This gave us insight into a shift from the traditional, centralised one-way system to a decentralised multi-way interaction.
The trials successfully tested delivering -30 kW of flexibility (about the same output as a domestic boiler) for one hour. The trials were a success and helped to identify minor bugs in the platforms (which have since been fixed), and provided us with a more detailed understanding of how flexibility offerings are felt at different locations throughout the grid.
Rose Hill School Battery Trials
Rose Hill is one of the most diverse areas of Oxfordshire, which made it ideal for the setting of ongoing trials that started in October 2020. The trials centered around using the newly developed asset control system, People’s Power Station 2.0, to automatically send instructions to a 2-tonne battery located at Rose Hill Primary School.
These trials (which have now moved beyond the MVS phase) are exploring how we can unlock the potential of batteries to play a part in delivering flexible energy. Rose Hill Battery has been the pioneering asset for testing the process and it has successfully delivered flexibility 15 times so far during the trials.
The extensive learnings from the trials are helping us understand how small batteries can play a part in adding flexibility to the energy network in a market context, so we can increase or decrease energy generation or in response to fluctuations in energy demand.
The successful outcomes of these trials so far mean that Rose Hill will be taking part in all upcoming trial periods where we are testing flexibility.
Sandford Hydro Trials
Sandford Hydro is a pioneering hydroelectric power plant on the River Thames, built by Low Carbon Hub in 2016. The hydro uses three huge Archimedes screws to generate electricity from the flow of the river water- these generate enough electricity to power more than 500 homes.
The trials, which began in 2019 aim to assess how the power of the river can be essentially used as a battery, storing the energy generated by the water flow to be used flexibly in line with fluctuating demand.
Most of the MVS trials at Sandford took place in early to mid-2021, allowing us to assess how the hydro can provide flexibility in changing river conditions. This allows us to explore a different way of storing energy for use at a later time – using the river. The hydro can build up a reserve of excess water upstream which can then generate extra power when required.
Optimisation works, coupled with integration into the People’s Power Station 2.0, will allow us to participate in the market trials as we’re doing with Rose Hill Battery. This will allow us to test how the flexible energy supply being created at Sandford can form part of a commercial energy network in the future.
Informing a clean, smart and flexible energy system for the future
The trials and findings outlined in this article form just a small part of the overall, complex structure of the Project LEO trials and purpose. But they demonstrate how, by performing measured tests on a range of flexible energy assets, we can start to build a database of learnings that will help inform future clean and smart energy systems.
While the roll-out of such systems on a large scale might still be some way off, the work being carried out by the partners in Project LEO is vital to our understanding of creating a viable low-carbon energy future and helps to take us one step closer to meeting our net-zero commitments.
We look forward to keeping you updated on all the findings of the various trials that form part of Project LEO as we get them.