Increasingly, we hear about smart* technologies in our homes, for heating, lighting, and even food ordering. These technologies can bring convenience and a personalised experience. In the case of heating, they can save us on fuel bills by increasing our controls.
When it comes to the future of powering homes, smart technologies are set to become a necessity rather than a nice-to have. Demand on the electricity grid is set to increase dramatically in the coming years, with the move to heat pumps and electric vehicles. The National Grid Towards 2030 report highlights how households will need to “effortlessly produce, store and consume energy in response to market signals”, with real-time, intelligent management of our energy.
A number of projects around the UK are currently innovating smart ways to power our homes. The Smart Energy Network Demonstrator at Keele University is a ‘living laboratory’ of energy generation, storage, distribution and forecasting whilst Sero Homes in Wales are developing carbon zero neighbourhoods.
Microgrids are another way to address the smart energy challenge, and Bristol Energy Cooperative is proud to be helping develop these.
What is a microgrid?
At its simplest, a microgrid is a private electrical network. A smart microgrid, however, can use intelligent software to interconnect renewable energy generation with energy usage and energy storage. This integration balances demand and load across multiple buildings.
Rather than having 10 homes individually powered with solar panels, and with their own batteries, on a smart microgrid the energy generation is shared between homes and there is one large battery. Software monitors all the different elements on the network such as heat pumps, underfloor heating and electric vehicle charging, to help smooth out the peaks and troughs of energy generation and usage across the whole site. All of this reduces dependency on the national grid, which is especially useful at peak times.
BEC’s involvement in microgrid projects
In 2019 BEC, together with Chelwood Community Energy and tech start-up CEPRO, set up the Microgrid Foundry. This joint venture is now developing some truly trailblazing microgrids that offer sustainable and efficient solutions for powering homes. The first is in Bristol, the second in Dorset.
The Water Lilies housing development in northwest Bristol is being developed by Bright Green Futures. Its 33 homes are situated on an old reservoir site. The energy efficient eco-homes all have air source heat pumps and solar panels, and are connected to share their energy generation. EV charging is available, and clever designs from the developer means the site appears car-free and builds a community using shared green spaces. BEC is funding the battery and the microgrid infrastructure at the site.
The second microgrid is with Bridport Cohousing. This community project will host 53 affordable homes using the same interconnected methods adopted at Water Lilies. It is one of the first of this scale in the UK, so offers an exciting model for new housing developers. BEC is funding the battery, PV and microgrid elements here.
Powering the homes of 2030 will be complex, and there will be no single solution. Projects such as Water Lilies and Bridport Cohousing are showcasing brilliant efficiency techniques that reduce dependency on the grid, whilst also providing a test bed for managing energy within whole neighbourhoods.
To create a system that’s fit for the future, we need more projects like these across the UK, and for best practice techniques to be shared. In January 2022, the Microgrid Foundry was announced as a finalist in the prestigious Climate Smart Cities Challenge. This exciting opportunity enables collaboration between other great minds to consider innovative, interconnected technologies for sustainable new housing developments. We look forward to seeing the outcome of this work!
Find out more about other projects in the BEC pipeline, through one of our upcoming webinars – details at https://bristolenergy.coop/share-offer-2022/
*It’s a little known fact that the more recent usage of the term “smart” comes from the acronym “Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology”(Netlingo.com)