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Researchers in the UK are studying how to democratize the electricity generated by rooftop solar systems by creating peer-to-peer microgrids that operate independently of local utility companies.

Clean Power

UKRI Studying Democratized Peer-To-Peer Microgrids

Researchers in the UK are studying how to democratize the electricity generated by rooftop solar systems by creating peer-to-peer microgrids that operate independently of local utility companies.

UK Research and Innovation has begun a study to determine how people with small rooftop solar systems — called micro-generators — could create a peer-to-peer energy market. The research is funded by UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

rooftop solar and microgrids

Entitled the Household-Supplier Energy Market Project, the focus is on creating a democratized peer-to-peer (P2P) energy market. Currently, a homeowner with a rooftop solar system can use the electricity created within the home or sell it to the grid. In a peer-to-peer energy market, any two individuals or households could directly buy from and sell to each other, without involving utilities or other third parties.

Dr Ruzanna Chitchyan, who is leading the project, says, “Perhaps you have installed some solar panels and you would much rather contribute your excess generation free of charge to the nearby homeless shelter instead of selling it back to the utility provider. Or sell it to someone else at a better price or give it to your neighbor. The households that produce the energy should have the power to decide on what to do with it. Similarly, consumers should be able to decide whose energy and at what price they want to buy.” Oh, no. Utility companies and grid operators won’t like that!

The Research

The aim of the research is to determine:

  • Whether the infrastructure for P2P energy trading is technically feasible
  • Who will provide it?
  • What will be the role of the current major power producers in such a market?
  • Whether supply continuity can be ensured under the fluctuating generation imposed by the nature of the renewable energy sources
  • What regulatory changes are necessary for this market to function?
  • What mechanisms, including cyber security and privacy approaches, are needed to engender trust in such a market?

EDF Energy is the industrial partner in this project and is currently testing the concept of peer-to-peer trading between households as part of a trial within a block of flats in London.

The Universities of Exeter and Leicester are the other partners in the HoSEM project. Exeter researchers are looking at what factors will encourage households/groups to join this peer-to-peer market, while Leicester researchers are taking an algorithmic and game-theory based forms of peer-to-peer trading.

Jim Fleming, energy head at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, says, “As we move to a low carbon society, we need to make the most of the energy generated by all producers, large or small. This project will look at the technical challenges that need to be overcome to implement a peer to peer energy trading system. If successful it will bring power from the people to the people.”

Accounting & Accountability

To enable such a P2P energy market, the project is developing a technical platform to support P2P energy trading between households. It will give market participants read and write access to the records for the production, sale, and purchase of energy at a low cost per transaction. Each transaction must be accurately recorded, verifiable, and secured to guarantee accurate assignment of rights and responsibilities for trades and billing, allowing equal access to all interested participants.

The distributed ledger technology could uniquely meet the domain requirements for the decentralized distributed energy systems, providing an ideal technical tool for such a platform if the households. Fostering trust in the platform will help attract others to this market. The ledgers could also be available to third party businesses that wish to provide new value-added services to the energy market.

Power To The People!

P2P energy markets would make it possible for neighbors to create microgrids directly between themselves. Not only would they provide more energy choices for participants, with appropriate battery storage they could keep the power on in participating homes when the main utility grid is not functioning for any reason. Such networks would be more than welcome in communities like Puerto Rico where storms can wipe out the entire grid in a matter of hours.

Government monopolies for utility companies may have made sense 100 years ago when Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were battling for supremacy in the nascent world of electricity and the thought of people generating their own electricity was little more than a dream. But they make much less sense today other than as a continuation of the “business as usual” mindset that has arisen over the past century.

 

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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