Orkney lands £14m EU-funded smart grid project

The Orkney isles and Community Energy Scotland (CES) are taking the lead for the whole UK as the European Union explores ways for islands to capitalise upon their energy resources with a new £14 million smart grid project.

The SMILE project (SMart IsLand Energy systems) sees Orkney collaborate with technical, grid and academic partners across Europe and fellow island communities of Samso in Denmark and Portuguese Madeira, to investigate how electricity producers, consumers and the grid that links them, should tackle energy storage and other challenges raised by renewables and electric transport.

In light of Scottish and UK government proposals for significant moves away from petrol and diesel vehicles, SMILE helps to address how battery-powered vehicles (BPVs) will be re-charged in future to maximise electricity generation from renewable sources and not over-burden the grid.

For independent energy charity CES, SMILE joins a suite of projects across Scotland where they are working with partners to overcome grid constraints so that community owned renewables can create local confidence and value, help people reduce their energy costs, strengthen local services, and promote skills and employment.

Nick Gubbins
Nick Gubbins

Nicholas Gubbins, the Chief Executive of CES said: “SMILE boosts Community Energy Scotland’s support for our non-profit members in communities nationwide, by demonstrating how people at grass roots level can benefit from the smart energy revolution. We are delighted to be leading the work for Orkney and Scotland.”

Cutting-edge energy storage systems, sophisticated IT communications, and large industrial load management will form the more novel parts of SMILE’s Orkney programme.

Local partners will upgrade already established equipment, such as BPV re-chargers and domestic heat pumps, household batteries and hot water stores, to act in a ‘grid-smart’ way – in other words with the ability to respond to and assist the local electric grid and renewable energy supply.

With over 50MW of installed wind energy capacity generating over 46GWh per year of renewable power, Orkney has been a net exporter of electricity since 2013. Many of the islands’ wind turbines are often ‘curtailed’ due to local grid capacity restrictions, resulting in loss of significant proportions of their annual output; estimated to be between 30% and 70% of potential production for the worst affected.

Smart grids are part of the answer for the need to flexibly, stably and reliably accommodate in the energy system the increasing share of distributed energy generation, increasing demands for energy and changes to the pattern of this demand. Through smart grids, peak generation and demand can be controlled, matched and the electricity system stabilized.

Key to making this work in the real world will be ensuring participants in the project – residents and organisations – experience little or no disruption to their normal routine.

Increasing and managing the local electricity demand in Orkney will allow more renewable energy generation, where generators are frequently curtailed due to the limited grid capacity within the island archipelago. When community owned wind turbines increase their electricity production, the proceeds directly benefit the island residents.

Across the three European island locations, nine technological and non-technological solutions will be tested, including:

  • integration of battery technology
  • electric power to heat
  • electric power to fuel
  • pumped hydro
  • electric vehicles
  • electricity stored aboard boats

Operating in real-life conditions will show how well they suit local circumstances.

The Orkney demonstrator will be led by CES. Initial system architecture, data collection, modelling and design is already underway. 2018 will see the procurement and installation of the technology installs, including smart domestic heating, BPV smart charging controls and industrial-scale load management. 2019-2021 will focus of data collection and analysis, as well as iterative improvements to the system operation, programming algorithms and set up. 

The SMILE consortium has a strong industrial pedigree as well as being firmly embedded in the respective communities, with nine industrial partners, providing technical knowledge on:

  • multi-disciplinary engineering (Rina Consulting)
  • smart Electric Grids (Empresa de Electricidade Da Madeira)
  • software for grid management (PRSMA)
  • battery systems and storage (VCHARGE, Sunamp and Lithium Balance)
  • integration of system for BPV charging (Route Monkey)
  • services (Samso Elektro)
  • exploitation and innovation management (Stichting Energy Valley Foundation).

Community Energy Scotland is also working on linked projects in Orkney to overcome local grid constraints, including Surf ‘n’ Turf and Heat Smart Orkney, both funded by the Scottish Government; and BIG HIT, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme and the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking.

20 Oct 2017

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