Sheffield Solar collaboration with National Grid

The University of Sheffield is working with National Grid to help the company understand how much energy the UK’s increasing number of solar panels are producing, and improve the efficiency of its electricity network.

The University’s Sheffield Solar research team – within the Department of Physics and Astronomy – has been active since 2010, and operates the UK’s largest database of rooftop solar panels.

Solar power has seen a massive surge in uptake over the past five years, providing up to 16 per cent of the UK’s energy demand.

However, there is little detailed data available on the actual energy produced by solar panels. Currently National Grid use weather information to estimate how much power solar systems are generating. Sheffield Solar is now working with the company to produce a tool which will use data from live systems to give them a better estimate.

Aldous Everard, business development manager at Sheffield Solar, said: “The project is progressing well and we’re already publishing some preliminary results online. Our website also allows people to see our live generation feed showing how much power is being produced by solar in Britain every half hour.

“The electricity system is separated into supply points. Eventually the tool will show how much is being produced at each of the National Grid’s main supply points, of which there are about 400 nationally.”

Jack Barber, senior energy forecaster at National Grid, is playing a leading role in the project. He said: “This solar power project, in partnership with the University of Sheffield, is one of our most exciting innovation projects and will help us to understand how we manage solar generation on the transmission network in greater detail. The rapid growth of solar power in the UK means it’s now critical that we know how much is being generated at any one point in time and that’s exactly what this project is going to tell us.”

National Grid is responsible for balancing supply and demand of energy for the country. The company has half hourly auctions to buy the required energy, but solar is an unknown quantity, so adds an unwelcome factor into the calculations. The result of this is that they have to keep more capacity in reserve, just in case demand suddenly drops or rises. This reserve is expensive financially, but also environmentally as reserve prices are high, and higher reserves means more energy wasted.