Orkney wind power

Orkney drives towards a smart energy future

Orkney is to deploy a virtual power plant to optimise demand and supply with 100% renewables.
Published: Tue 09 Apr 2019

The Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland have long been at the forefront of the clean energy movement with their need to be more self-sustaining and with access to abundant renewable resources including wind and marine power as well as the opportunity to serve as a testbed and exploit emerging technologies such as hydrogen.

Among these Orkney has several initiatives under way, of which a key one is as one of the three island partners in the Horizon 2020 supported SMILE (SMart IsLand Energy system) project, which is developing smart grid solutions in an island context. Orkney’s focus is on demand side management integrating electric heating systems in buildings, electric vehicles and hydrogen electrolysis.

Now Orkney is building on this with its next step in the quest to become a ‘smart energy island’ with the ReFLEX (Responsive FLEXibility) project to develop a virtual power plant – or ‘virtual energy system’ as it is styled – interlinking the local electricity, transport and heat networks into one controllable, overarching system. The three-year £28.5m project, which is led by the island-based European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) and supported through the UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, is aimed to manage and improve the supply-demand balance.

“This new model will demonstrate how we can better interact with, own and manage our integrated energy systems locally, both at individual and community level,” indicates Neil Kermode, Managing Director at EMEC. “[Orkney] is well on its way to decarbonising each aspect of the energy system. The target is to have a negative carbon footprint and this pioneering project will build upon the existing local energy system, local infrastructure and local expertise, to accelerate this transition to a fully sustainable and flexible energy system.”

Demand side management in smart grid

From Orkney’s perspective the SMILE project had its origins in the earlier Heat Smart Orkney, which was developed to utilise excess electricity and avoid curtailment from community-owned wind turbines to provide residential heating for fuel poverty reduction. Indeed, and notably, Orkney has been running with renewable generation over 100% of annual demand since as far back as 2013.

The SMILE project, in which the islands of Madeira and Samsø also are participating, is focussed in Orkney on managing heating and hot water and EV charging in the different settings, domestic, tourist accommodation and businesses. For these, heating and EV charge points are being deployed, along with smart control on the 11kV switching and storage system.

Islands are considered as ideal for piloting new technologies as communities may be more readily engaged and participants remain more active. In Orkney this has been borne out with more than 110 households having indicated their interest to participate in the trial. Moreover, Orkney already has a high proportion of EVs per home, reported at 375% more than the UK average.

SMILE was launched in 2017 and now about half way through, detailed results are still to come. But that hasn’t slowed the intention of what amounts to a further scale up with ReFLEX.

Renewable flexibility

At the heart of ReFLEX is the demonstration of flexible energy balancing technologies with hundreds of participants. The aim is to deploy up 500 domestic and 100 business and large-scale batteries, up to 200 vehicle-to-grid EV chargers, up to 600 new EVs and a community-powered electric bus and e-bike integrated transport system. In addition, up to 100 flexible heating systems and an industrial-scale hydrogen fuel cell are planned.

A key and novel aspect of the project is that the technologies will be introduced under leasing type finance, thus avoiding major upfront capital investment by the end user.

Among the project partners Solo Energy will implement its FlexiGrid software platform enabling smart monitoring and control of the flexible technologies to charge during periods of peak local renewable generation and release stored energy during times of peak demand.

“Orkney has unique energy challenges that make the island the perfect place to demonstrate this cutting edge new technology,” comments Mark Hamilton from Solo Energy. “With more renewable generation than the local grid can use, and a constrained connection to the mainland, new battery and software can help balance the grid locally.”

Other participants are product and service provider Aquatera, Doosan Babcock, which will provide the fuel cell, Community Energy Scotland, which also is a lead partner in SMILE, Heriot-Watt University as the academic partner and Orkney Islands Council.

The project partners envisage that once the technology and associated energy service supply framework has been demonstrated and proven in Orkney, the model could be made available commercially for replication elsewhere.

“Through our Enterprising Communities priority, we are committed to supporting strategic projects that enable further development of Orkney as a low carbon energy systems innovation hub and the ReFLEX Orkney project is an excellent example of that,” states Orkney Islands Council Leader James Stockan.