There’s theory and then there’s reality. In theory, renewable energy could meet all of humanity’s needs for electricity. In reality, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that have to fit together before that can happen. First there’s generation, then there’s distribution, and finally comes storage. Making them work together reliably and at the lowest possible cost is a daunting task.
ReFLEX & VES
In the UK, the Orkney Islands, located off the northern tip of Scotland, are being used as a laboratory to learn how to make all the components of a fully renewable energy network function together in harmony. Funded by a £28.5 million grant from UK Research and Innovation, the Responsive Flexibility (ReFLEX) and Virtual Energy System (VES) programs will link local renewable energy generation with transportation and heating networks on the islands.
Claire Perry, energy and clean growth minister for the UK, tells Forbes, “What we are seeing here on Orkney is a test bed for the energy system of the future. These smart systems are a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy and will provide cheaper, greener and more flexible access to energy for everyone. What we learn from these innovations could one day be rolled out across the UK and exported around the world and we’ll be able to say it was ‘Made in Orkney’.”
The ReFLEX system will consist of
- Up to 500 domestic batteries
- Up to 100 business and large-scale batteries
- Up to 200 Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) chargers
- Up to 600 new electrical vehicles (EVs)
- An island community-powered electric bus and e-bike integrated transport system
- Up to 100 flexible heating systems
- A Doosan industrial-scale hydrogen fuel cell
The VES and ReFLEX systems will help insure high quality, affordable energy services to Orkney Island inhabitants. UK minister Lord Duncan points out that “Scotland is at the forefront of smart energy which is key to the UK Government’s modern Industrial Strategy. With £14.3 million of UK Government funding going to the ReFLEX project in Orkney, we are helping to establish the Scottish Islands as an energy powerhouse. We need cheaper, cleaner and flexible energy and Orkney will be at the heart of this.”
Job Growth & Investments
Not only will the ReFLEX and VES programs reduce carbon emissions in the Orkney Islands, they will have a secondary benefits as well — more jobs and more investments in the renewable energy and smart software sectors. Rob Saunders, deputy director of UK Research and Investment, tells Forbes “We all need energy systems that are cheaper, cleaner and consumer friendly. We have a great opportunity with the ReFLEX project to show just how innovation can deliver this energy ambition for the future. Supported by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, ReFLEX can drive investment, create high-quality jobs and grow companies with export potential.”
The lessons learned in Orkney can later be applied to the rest of the UK and other places around the world that want to participate in the renewable energy revolution. For more on the ReFlex program, check out the video below.