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Image: Colin Calder.
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Current± Disruptors: PassivSystem's Colin Calder on smart grids and forecasting solar generation

Image: Colin Calder.

PassivSystems has a focus on offering smart energy services, particularly in relation to solar PV and heating solutions, with a cloud-based home energy service platform.

Passiv is involved in the Smart Energy Islands project in the Isles of Scilly, led by Hitachi Europe, a project using the isles as a test-bed for developing smart grid technology.

The company has also recently partnered Shell for the launch of the smart hybrid heat system, B-Snug. The system uses machine learning, and is delivered as one of Passiv's Advanced Smart Control services.

Colin Calder, CEO of PassivSystems, spoke with Current± about the need for accurate day-ahead solar forecasting, why low carbon heat for flexibility is the way forward and how Passiv is looking to expand in the near future.

Passiv's data feeds into National Grid’s solar forecasting project. How does that work?

We have a huge portfolio of installed solar systems - over forty thousand rooftops - and we provide a real-time feed to National Grid. They use that as a proxy for generation across the whole of the UK.

However, what is more interesting is forecasting what generation is going to occur over the next 24-hour period. On the platform we have today we do weather adjusted forecasting. We take the forecasted weather from the met office; there are over 200 met office management offices in the UK and we’re taking weather feeds from all of those. That gives us information about what’s happening now, and we are also getting what they’re forecasting might happen over the next 24 hours. We use knowledge of each individual system and the weather forecast to start to generate a forecasts for generation.

However, that forecast is only as good as the weather forecast itself. Weather forecasting data is pretty good but trying to get it down to half hourly accuracy- there’s still some way to go.

How is that 24 hour generation forecast then used?

If a consumer has rooftop generation, a battery or an electric vehicle and demand for energy for low carbon heat, then they can see what the 24 hour ahead price of electricity is, their grid aware controls system can tell them when to buy, when to sell and when to store energy. In other words, how they can use all their assets behind-the-meter to maximise value based on the changing price of electricity on the market.

That’s exactly what we did on the Isles of Scilly with the Smart Energy Islands project. We built those algorithms to work on behalf of the consumer. If you can feed in your day-ahead forecast of generation and you know what the capacity is in your battery, then you can start to do some quite interesting stuff around optimising the use of those assets and generating the greatest asset for the consumer.

PassivSystems is also using heating systems for flexibility. What is the best application for this?

As we decarbonise heat, that demand is going to be winter based and the probability is that the primary renewable source will be wind. Over the next 10 years we will see more and more wind generation coming onto the grid to meet the decarbonation of heat in homes. That’s all very well until the Siberian cold that comes by every five to 15 years. It is a pretty infrequent event, but it’s a high-pressure system that sits over the UK bringing potentially cold weather and zero wind for many days. And that’s the issue we’re really focused on because batteries are not going to be the solution to unavailable wind, where that generation is not available for multiple days due to this particular set of weather circumstances. We started at that point, which is why we think multi-vector heat is the most cost-effective way of decarbonising the UK today.

We are in the process of rolling that out at scale with our key customers EDF and Shell. The alternative to solving that problem is you build a lot of additional conventional generation and that capacity is going to stand idle for the majority of the time waiting for that one in five to 15-year occurrence. That would burden the consumer with billions of additional costs. What we’re doing is using the existing assets in their home to provide resilience to mitigate the impact of that event.

How will PassivSystems expand in the future?

We’re expanding oversees. We won a huge 20-year project contract in the Middle East managing the deployment of free rooftop solar in Oman and that’s forecast over ten years to be up to a quarter of a million houses, so that's very exciting.

Within the UK, we are looking to expand significantly the rate at which low carbon heating systems, i.e putting an air source heat pump in alongside a conventional oil or gas boiler, is being installed into UK homes. That’s why B-Snug with Shell and the work we’re doing with EDF is really strategic for our future. Ultimately, there are around 27 million homes that have to transition to low carbon heat so it’s a very big market and we plan on being a major player in that market.

Editorial

Alice Grundy Junior reporter, Current±

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